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In Houston, Sen. Cornyn Calls For Renewing Congressional Rape Kit Funding

The Texas senator used Houston’s forensic science center as a stage to urge Congress to reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act.

Florian Martin/Houston Public Media
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, addresses reporters after taking a tour at the Houston Forensic Science Center on Thursday, Oct. 3, 2019.


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Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, visited Houston's forensic science center Thursday to make his case for Congress to renew the Debbie Smith Act.

It was originally signed into law in 2004 to give local and state crime labs funding to end the backlog of untested rape kits.

The U.S. Senate renewed the act unanimously in May, but the legislation expired on Monday because the House of Representatives didn't follow.

Cornyn, who authored the Debbie Smith Act, said the law has helped Texas reduce its rape kit backlog by 90%.

"We can't let this get lost in the chaos that's occurring in Washington, D.C., now," he said. "And that's why we wanted to come here today to highlight the great work being done here in Houston by the city and by this lab."

The problem is that Democrats and Republicans don't agree on how to pass the law. House Democrats tacked it onto the Violence Against Women Act, but that law also includes legislation about guns and failed in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Peter Stout, president and CEO of the Houston Forensic Science Center, said continued funding is crucial for their work, not just to end backlogs, but for other components as well.

"We're really worried about this," he said. "Because this is equipment, this is personnel, this is training for our personnel. This is coming right at a point where we're shifting to new technologies nationwide."

A lack of funding means the lab will have to make tough decisions about which parts of their work they should prioritize, Stout said.

"Do I put double homicide over triple rape?" he said. "You tell me."

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