DOJ, law enforcement, victims, victim advocates admonish rape kit testing bill that talks school choice, immigration

For eight months, a bill that authors hoped would prevent a backlog of sexual assault kits from building again has sat and waited for a committee hearing.

Now in its place, legislators have put forward a bill that victim advocates say is designed to die.

The original bill, Assembly Bill 214, laid out a timeline for collecting, processing and storing rape kits. It came out in May 2019, after the state Department of Justice announced it had gotten through the backlog of untested kits, and it passed the state Senate by October.

It awaited a hearing on the committee level in the Assembly, after which it had enough co-authors in the Assembly for it to pass. The governor also said he would sign the bill once it got to his desk.

A new bill introduced last week, Assembly Bill 844, has everything the other has, but it adds two “poison pills,” according to Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison.

One provision would require law enforcement to report to immigration and customs enforcement if a person they arrest for sexual assault is not a U.S. Citizen. Another would allow victims of sexual assault to enroll in school choice programs even if they don’t qualify.

“This provides an opportunity for that family and that child who wants to get a fresh start without a fresh residence to go to an alternate school through the parental choice program,” said Rep. David Steffen, R-Green Bay, who authored both bills.

The Department of Justice, law enforcement, victims and victim advocates all spoke against the additions on Wednesday, saying the Assembly Committee on Health should take up AB 214 instead of AB 844, which it did Wednesday.

“This is a cynical legislative ploy,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul. “(It’s) exactly what people cannot stand about politics, which is elected officials who are pretending to address an issue when in fact what they’re doing is blocking the passage of legislation that’s going to help survivors of sexual assault.”

Erin Thornley Parisi, the executive director of the Rape Crisis Center, and Ian Henderson, the policy and systems services director for the Wisconsin Coalition against Sexual Assault, both said this could hurt immigrant victims and victims of sexual assault in Latinx communities.

“AB 844 will prevent immigrants who are sexually assaulted from reporting their crimes to law enforcement, And it will prevent them from seeking help at all,” Thornley Parisi said.

During the public hearing for AB 844, Subeck said bill authors should bring the issues regarding immigration and school choice separately and should pass AB 214 now.

“It’s there,” she said. “It has a majority of the body supporting it. It’s already passed the Senate. bring that, bring the other pieces separately, and we can evaluate those on their merits, but lumping them all together is just holding sexual assault victims hostage, and that’s just not OK.”

Victims of sexual assault addressed Subeck and other members of the committee on health, accusing them of playing political games.

“This isn’t a political issue for me,” said Jacqueline Jaske. “I considered myself a Republican, and I cannot report this solely Republican bill or the politics replacing victim’s rights for justice.”