The Texas House on Tuesday unanimously approved a bill by state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, to establish a statewide database for DNA evidence from sexual assault cases.
The bill does not directly address the backlog of thousands of rape kits in Texas that have not been analyzed, but it would make it easier for sexual assault victims to track their DNA samples in the system and make it less likely that samples will get lost, Howard said.
House Bill 281, Howard said, creates an “efficient and effective way of tracking this so we can actually bring justice to these horrific sexual assaults.”
The bill — which has a price tag of about $1.6 million in the next two-year budget — directs the Texas Department of Public Safety to establish a statewide DNA evidence tracking system into which local jurisdictions can enter new cases.
Howard said the bill also will help more agencies in the state connect to a national database that has produced numerous leads for sexual assault investigators across the country.
During a brief discussion on the House floor, legislators stressed the broad support for the bill by noting that even state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, a Bedford Republican who is a tea party favorite, was a co-author.
The House last week passed House Bill 1729 by state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, which would allow Texans applying for or renewing their driver’s licenses to donate $1 to help fund the cost of working through the backlog of untested rape kits.
The Austin Police Department’s DNA laboratory closed last year after questions were raised about the integrity of evidence handled by the lab, which had a significant backlog even before the DNA lab’s methods came under fire.
The Austin City Council in November approved a six-year contract of up to $3.6 million for an outside vendor to do testing on evidence for Austin cases. The effort to work through the backlog using outsourced labs, however, is taking longer than expected.
In the meantime, some evidence from the Austin Police Department is being analyzed by labs run by the Texas Department of Public Safety and Dallas County.