Law enforcement agencies would have to follow new statewide standards on how long physical evidence in sexual assault investigations should be retained under new legislation headed to the House floor.
"God forbid we ever throw out evidence that could have led to somebody's conviction," said Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, who has become the Legislature's top leader in reforming the state's sexual assault laws. "When I worked on a college campus, I worked with victims of sexual assault. It's a tough process to go through, it's intimidating, but at the very least we should ensure that evidence isn't destroyed."
Last year, Wintrow led the effort to pass a new system for collecting and tracking rape kits in Idaho in the Legislature. Despite being backed by a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Statehouse, the proposal passed unanimously in both chambers.
The law implemented a timeline for police who decide to send the evidence to a state forensic laboratory for testing, unless the victim requests otherwise. Furthermore, agencies now need approval from their county prosecutor if they don't think a rape kit should be tested passed
This year, supporters are seeking to fine-tune that system during this year's session by focusing on retention practices.
According to the proposal, rape kits involved in felony or anonymous cases would have to be retained for 55 years or until the sentence is completed. For death penalty cases, rape kits would have to be retained until the sentence has been carried out. Currently, Idaho does not have such guidelines.
The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee unanimously approved advancing the measure Tuesday after listening to almost entirely positive testimony in support of the bill.
"In regards to the 55-year retention process, that does seem like a long time ... but we're not talking about very big pieces of evidence," said Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury, who testified in favor of the bill. "It's quite small."
Rape kits contain samples of semen, saliva or blood taken from a victim, usually a woman, during an invasive and intimate examination that can last up to six hours. The DNA collected can be entered into a national database if it's submitted to a lab for testing. Doing so helps law enforcement officials identify serial predators.
As of this year, Idaho's rape kits include software that includes a serial number on all kits to help keep track of them during the collection, testing and retention process.