Ga. senator defends move to block rape evidence bill but gets some facts wrong

Georgia state Sen. Rene UntermanA state Senator who is taking heat for blocking a popular bill to stop the neglect of sexual assault evidence says that there’s no need to pass statewide legislation to fix a problem that exists only in DeKalb and Fulton counties. But agencies elsewhere in Georgia have reported hundreds of packages of untested evidence, according to published reports.

The Athens-Clarke County Police Department found 159 packages of untested evidence, also known as rape kits, which date back to 1993, according to a local TV news station report last year. Cobb police found 365 that date to the 1970’s. There has been no official, statewide count of untested kits, but if these numbers are added to the ones that were held by Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital, then the number of untested kits uncovered by the media totals more than 1,900.

State Sen. Renee Unterman, a Buford Republican, took to the Senate floor Tuesday to defend herself against growing criticism of her decision to block HB 827, which passed unanimously in the House with the overwhelming backing of the state’s law enforcement community. In recent days, Better Georgia, Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard, and victim advocates on the local, state and national level have raised objections. A Change.org petition ago garnered some 400 signatures in support of the bill.

“We would be writing a law . . . because of one particular incident in Fulton County,” Unterman said. “I can assure you if victims are in harm’s way, in January we will have legislation to make the situation improve.”

Atlanta Democrat Rep. Scott Holcomb is sponsor of HB 827, also known as the “Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act.” It would require law enforcement agencies to count and turn in their old, untested kits to state forensic labs this summer and also specifies that they must pick up new evidence within 96 hours from the hospitals and clinics where it is collected. Agencies would have 30 days to take it to state labs.

A draft of the bill was introduced late last session, but interest in the issue picked up steam after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation found that Grady Memorial Hospital, the sole rape crisis center for Fulton County’s 1 million residents, had locked away some 1,400 of them, even though most belonged to victims who said in writing they wanted them given to police. Grady held them on the mistaken belief that federal privacy regulations blocked their release, but the hospital has since turned over most of its kits, and law enforcement leaders have said that agencies are improving their practices.

During her speech, Unterman criticized a recent AJC story that broke the news that she had declined to hold a required hearing on HB 827 in the Health and Human Services Committee, which she chairs. She emphasized that she chaired a study committee last year that held two meetings and concluded in a January 8 report that it would continue to monitor the rape kit issue in 2016.

In 2015, the study committee was initially described as one that would focus on the problem of campus sexual assault, according to legislation that created the “Senate Ending Campus Sexual Assaults Study Committee,” but the final report called it the Senate Study Committee on Sexual Assault and included recommendations on the handling of rape kits. Unterman noted in her speech that representatives of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Grady Health System, and Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault all testified during her study committee hearings.

“Our conclusion was that the backlog on rape kits was being taken care of. There was not enough need to have additional legislation.” Unterman said.

That said, GBI and GNESA representatives also testified in support of HB 827 before the House Judiciary Non-Civil committee. A Grady spokeswoman told the AJC that the hospital supports the bill.

Watch Unterman’s Senate remarks here.

Reader Comments 0

9 comments
HeyJude404
HeyJude404

Unterman is a petty politician who behaves like a spiteful playground bully. She is not only an embarrassment to her constituents but all of Georgia.

billy
billy

Unterman has got to go!! Blocking medical marijuana legislation and rape kit testing is absurd. What is with this woman??

me2sam
me2sam

Bet there is some selfish lobbyist group behind her stand...surely she is not as stupid as she appears(well,maybe).....GA goobers at their best,at a cost to citizens.

Gymee
Gymee

How can a woman who is in a position to change women's lives for the better refuse to do so? How can Georgia Senator Renee Unterman defend her position with any degree of sincerity? This is a purely political move echoing the obstructionism we have seen  from her party on a national level. That this bipartisan bill would bring justice and security that benefits all women of the state that is undeniable. Delaying this bill for another year deprives all women the justice and security that they deserve and leaves on the streets and in the neighborhoods the perpetrators of these crimes to continue to hunt, rape, and even kill the women of Georgia and beyond state boundaries. Does Renee Unterman really want that on her conscience?

bruga
bruga

So one bumpkin from Buford is better informed than all of her elected counterparts and their respective constituencies on the wide-ranging subjects of rape kits, medical marijuana, and MARTA. What a privilege for Georgians that she chooses to reside among us.

RoadScholar
RoadScholar

Obstructionist or playing god? Why don't you just resign  so you do not have to defend your stupid actions any more?

becca1
becca1

I'm sure the movie industry that is rapidly moving into Georgia pumping millions and millions of dollars into its economy , will be thrilled to know that if any of its members are raped, then go through the trauma of a rape kit at the hospital, will be thrilled to know that this crucial evidence is not obtained by law enforcement communities but languishes in the hospitals where it was taken. Shame, shame on Senator Untermann! Whose pocket is she in? That's the only reasonable conclusion as to why anyone would block this crucial legislation. Hopefully, someone will re-introduce it next year and Ms. Untermann furnished with the correct statistics that cry out for legislative action. Georgia's women should be outraged! I know I certainly am.  Buford should remember it's Senator's stupidity come re-election time and vote accordingly.

Monty115
Monty115

Stonewalling this house bill on the false pre-tense that it only helps Fulton and DeKalb counties is simple minded and a total dereliction of duty. She clearly has no evidence support this position and she should be censored by the House.

Toylady007
Toylady007

And in response to Unterman's comment, what is wrong with making it a law so that this never happens again? I guarantee if she was one of these women whose rape kit was never processed, she would be singing a different tune. We all know how lax things have become, and you almost need a "law" to get anything to happen.