A bipartisan bill taking aim at the overwhelming backlog of rape evidence test kits was passed in the Wisconsin Senate last year. It seeks to create deadlines for kit submissions as well as form a database to track them. Yet, Assembly Health Committee Chairman Rep. Joe Sanfelippo has refused to hold a hearing on the legislation. With the end of the legislative term approaching, it is imperative that Rep. Sanfelippo takes action, but it seems he has no intention of doing so.
Instead, Sanfelippo is keen on supporting a substitute piece of legislation introduced Jan. 31 by Republican Reps. David Steffen and Jeremy Thiesfeldt. This bill is all but identical to the original bills, save two divisive additions — immigration officials must be notified if attackers are in the country illegally, and students assaulted by other students or teachers would be allowed to enter Wisconsin’s School Choice Programs. Sanfelippo scheduled a hearing for this replacement bill.
Democrats, advocates and survivors are calling the new bill a political stall, and they’re right. The pushback from Republicans, an anomaly on a bipartisan bill, is an iniquitous attempt to play the game that has become American politics. Wisconsin has a real issue with backlog rape test kits, and many are pushing for reforms to perform this testing in an adequately timely manner to at the very least help convict repeat offenders. But additional clauses, like those added by Steffen and Thiesfeldt, serve only to make the bill more divisive, and therefore nearly impassable.
Steffen and Thiesfeldt introduced polemical measures — not out of good faith lawmaking, but to engineer a bill that they know won’t pass yet is ostensibly legitimate. But even if it does pass, the bill helps Republicans to do two things. First, it aids in building a false body of evidence to link immigrants to crime, specifically rape, contributing to a larger anti-immigration agenda. Second, it paints school choice as a liberating option for survivors, instead of an equality-harming entity that allows those with means to jump ship on failing public school initiatives and leave the underprivileged in the dust.
But regardless of political party, the immorality in the situation is apparent. Rape evidence testing is a serious issue that must be addressed. When a bipartisan attempt is made to do so, conflicting party interests come into play, and the bill becomes a tool for political gain and a means to an end instead of a simple solution to rape test kit backlogs. Though currently taking place in Wisconsin, this calamity is indicative of the wildly unhealthy game that has become lawmaking in the United States.
What should have been at least the beginning of a bipartisan solution was pushed aside by conflicting party interests. Echoes of controversial issues were purposefully inserted into an otherwise universally supported bill to derail its implementation and block a ‘win’ for Democrats. It has become ingrained in the American narrative to push for victory rather than to lift each other up in reform.
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As of July 2019, there were 6,837 untested rape kits sitting in inventory in the State of Wisconsin. Testing these backlogged kits helps to prevent repeat offenders from committing similar acts in the future.
Bills like the original pair proposed last year are crucial steps in reforming the criminal justice system to better accommodate victims of rape or sexual assault and to catch perpetrators. But by adding unnecessary clauses like the mandatory immediate reporting of illegal immigrants to officials, the process is only further muddied, and only puts further stress on victims. The bureaucracy of rape reporting does not need unnecessary additions like one which only serves to intimidate immigrants from reporting rape for fear of getting immigration officials involved.
What Wisconsin needs is a clear-cut, streamlined reporting and testing process, not one which brings other complicated and controversial factors into the picture.
If Wisconsin is to get effective, quality-of-life-improving bills passed, they must be focused and well-meaning, not another piece in a twisted, agonizingly slow game of political chess.
Jacqueline Jeske, a sexual assault survivor, told the Assembly Health Committee her opinion in a last-ditch effort to save the original bills.
“We are pawns in this game, victims and survivors,” Jeske said.
She’s right, and it’s time to shed party differences and focus on issues like this that all can agree on.
Luke Carmosino (lc[email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in history and economics.