BATON ROUGE, La. — A House committee passed a bill Monday that would require the state to create a sexual assault collection kit tracking system.
The system would indicate the location and status of rape kits throughout the stages of the criminal justice process.
Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, presented Senate Bill 169, saying it would put Louisiana on the same level as 40 other states who have similar programs. Mizell placed a rape kit in front of her as she presented the bill.
“We are outliers, as we are in many things, but we are outliers in the way we handle rape kits and sexual assaults from that point,” Mizell said about tracking the kits.
Meanwhile, in another part of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee was hearing from domestic violence shelters about their lack of funding.
Mariah Wineski with the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence said 2,600 requests for beds go unmet across the state each year due to capacity limits. There are 17 shelters in Louisiana with just over 300 beds available to serve all 64 parishes.
The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services receives federal funding through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families grant program. These funds are then parsed out to the shelters contracted by the department.
The shelters receive no money from the state’s general fund. Funding comes from federal grants, individual fundraisers, legal fees for marriage and divorce licenses and justice reinvestment initiatives.
Wineski says that funding is not enough, and Louisiana is falling behind.
“Even Mississippi provides $12 million in state general funds for its domestic violence victim services,” Wineski said. “So we really are an outlier in not doing this.”
The coalition asked that $15 million be added to the state’s Family Violence Prevention Program to stabilize staffing and potentially open a new shelter.
They asked the Legislature for funds last year as well but received none.
The coalition was not the only group in the Finance committee hearing that was asking for more money.
Children’s advocacy groups, disability services, proponents of early childhood care, social workers, and teachers were all present to request money.
The House stripped the budget of a teacher pay raise earlier in the session. House leaders opted to pay down the state debt, saying this would allow for local school boards to implement their own raises once liabilities for teacher pensions were paid off. Opponents of this change are skeptical that will happen.
Colette Tippy with the United Teachers of New Orleans said, “Students deserve better.”
The Legislature has $2.1 billion in surplus funds to spend after a recent increase in the estimated tax revenue.