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WV Sen. Woelfel battles for sexual assault bills


The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With a few days left in the West Virginia legislative session, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, isn’t waiting until the last minute to see through two bills he crafted to help sexual assault victims achieve justice.

Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell

Woelfel expressed his exasperation from the Senate floor Thursday afternoon that his bills to help sexual assault victims, Senate Bill 69 and Senate Bill 167, received an apathetic reception in the House since being passed in the Senate last week.

“April is Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month,” Woelfel said after the Senate’s morning session. “Here we are at a time when we should be honoring sexual assault victims and making their journey through the legal system easier to navigate, and there are some people who are playing political games with these particular bills.”

Woelfel stood to talk when the Senate was considering House Bill 2691. The bill, which was approved by the Senate by a 33-1 margin, allows anyone who is certified as both a barber and cosmetologist to practice solely as a barber.

Woelfel didn’t take issue with the bill on its face, but the subject matter was a catalyst for his frustration that his bills weren’t being given the same consideration in the House, he said.

“It’s beyond shameful,” Woelfel said. “The average time for a forensic rape kit is 460 days from the day it reaches the lab until there’s a test result given. When you add in the time it takes to get the kit there and get it back, a rape victim has two years in purgatory before they even have the results. Of course, there can’t be a prosecution of the rapist, who is probably out on bond doing God knows what while this is all pending in the court system.”

Both bills were approved in a 34-0 margin by the Senate on March 27.

Since that day, both bills have been in the queue of bills in the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 167 would require the state’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission to create a subcommittee to establish protocols and propose laws regarding processing of rape kits. The bill also creates standards for storing the DNA samples from rape kits, regardless of whether a police report is filed in the case.

The subcommittee would be tasked with establishing time, processing, testing and storage standards for rape kits.

If the bill were signed into law, collection and storage of DNA samples would become part of the post-arrest processing procedures for anyone charged with a felony, similar to how fingerprints are collected and stored now.

Senate Bill 69 establishes the Sexual Assault Victims’ Bill of Rights.

It provides sexual assault victims the right to a personal representative to accompany them to the hospital, court proceedings, and police and prosecution interviews.

The bill would establish in state code sexual assault victims’ rights to receive a forensic medical exam and creation of a rape kit, have the rape kit tested and preserved and to be informed by the investigating law enforcement agency of any results from the exam as long as it doesn’t compromise an ongoing investigation.

The bill also would codify sexual assault victims’ rights to have in writing the policies that govern forensic medical examinations and preservation of evidence obtained from them, and it would give them some ability to track down their rape kits.

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