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An evidence bag from a sexual assault case in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center. Photo: Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

A Texas bill heard by lawmakers this week would establish a program to crowdfund the testing of thousands of backlogged rape kits in the state, according to the Texas Tribune. With a lack of sufficient state funding allocated to test all of the kits, which cost between $500 to $2000 each to process, proponents of the bill hope citizen donations will help remove some of the backlog and solve more unsolved rapes.

The bill would ask those applying for or renewing a driver’s license to make an optional $1 or more donation that would go toward the rape kit backlog, according to the Texas Tribune. The state already has a similar donation system for veterans’ causes, which raises about $1 million per year.

A two-year state budget proposed by the House and Senate would put $4 million into testing new rape kits. However, the budget has yet to be approved, and would not necessarily eradicate the backlog of at least 3,500 older kits that have gone untested since the state’s last funding initiative in 2011, when $11 million in state funding went toward the effort, the Tribune reports.

“We have an opportunity to help victims and survivors get justice," Texas Rep. Victoria Neave, said in a press release shortly after filing the bill in early February. "Through this legislation, Texans can come together to back law enforcement officers, support women and help to stop repeat offenders. The small, collective efforts of Texans from across the state will make an impact in ending the rape kit backlog."

As many 20,000 rape kits in Texas and 1,100 in Dallas alone are still in need of testing, according to Neave, citing estimates by the Department of Public Safety.

Crowdfunding and other methods that exclude state funding have been used to raise money for rape kit backlogs before, according to the New York Times. In 2009, the Detroit Crime Commission, the Wayne County prosecutor’s office and the Michigan Woman’s Foundation began a joint fundraising campaign called Enough SAID to help with Detroit’s 11,000 rape kit backlog. And in 2014, it was announced that the Manhattan district attorney’s office would use $35 million from civil forfeiture assets to fund rape kit backlog testing.

Similar rape kit crowdfunding bills are also currently pending in California and New Mexico, the New York Times reports. End the Backlog, an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation, an anti-violence organization, recently published a statement highlighting legislation and proposed legislation that tackle rape kit testing funds, including the Texas bill.

“While states can consider alternative funding measures to achieve public safety goals—and the effort is both needed and appreciated—it remains the duty of the legislature to use general funds first to serve the people and correct injustices,” Lily Rocha, policy and advocacy manager of the Joyful Heart Foundation, wrote in the statement.

Some cities and states have already had success clearing their backlogs, including South Dakota, which completed the analysis of 504 previously untested kits in January. About half of those kits contained enough DNA to be tested, and about 16 percent produced hits in CODIS, the FBI’s criminal DNA database. According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, as reported by Forensic Magazine, rape kits produce an average of one CODIS hit for every four kits tested.

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