Who could possibly hold up a bill guaranteed to get a bunch of rapists
off the street for the cost of zero dollars? If your guess was the
112th Congress, you won â but Americaâs women didnât.
There wasnât even a partisan split on this one; when youâve got New
York Democrat Carolyn Maloney and the conservative Concerned Women
for America not only marching in the same direction but hopping
around sending up alarm flares together, itâs fair to say youâve got
yourself a consensus.
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Allen West (R-Fla.) both supported
this law; need I go on?
Apparently, yes. The SAFER Act of 2012 was supposed to force the federal
government to spend $117 million in already authorized funds to
process some of the 400,000 rape kits sitting around collecting dust
in evidence rooms around the country.
The money is being spent now, but on other things, and this bill would require
officials to use at least 75 percent of it for its intended purpose.
(âSlush fundâ is such an unhappy phrase, but Congress found two years
ago that some of the money had been spent onÂ conferences and processing DNA for other crimes.)
This would have been a perfect way for theÂ GOP-controlled Congress to end a year in which notÂ one but two Republican Senate candidates made offensive comments aboutÂ rape.
Especially since while that DNA evidence remains untouched, predators can have themselves aÂ jolly old holiday doing what they do; as Maloney, who wrote
the original 2004 bill that was supposed to end the kit-testing
backlog, says, âRapists are very sick people; they keep going until
The Senate version, sponsored by John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Michael
Bennet (D-Colo.), still needs the blessing of both Patrick Leahy
(D-Vt.), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Chuck Grassley
(R-Iowa), the ranking Republican on the committee. Both have
previously voted in favor of an even tougher version of the bill.
Grassley just wanted to make sure that âCongress isnât forcing law
enforcement to unnecessarily review kits,â an aide said, in casesÂ where there’s plenty of other evidence, for example.Â
The House legislation was proposed by Ted Poe (R-Tex.), who as a judge
back home in Houston heard more than 25,000 felony cases in his 22
years on the bench. As a former prosecutor, too, he knows from
experience that this particular brand of offender does âeverything they
can to harm women emotionally, to steal their souls â and knowing who
did it is very important to healing.â
So why didn’t his bill zip through Congress, as an early Christmas
present to survivors? Â âI canât answer why itâs not moving,â he told me on Thursday.
âIâve been talking to the Judiciary Committee and they just keep â the
answer is, âWeâre working on it.ââââ
Or they were. If the bill isnât passed before the current Congress adjourns — now highly unlikely, since the House knocked off for Christmas Thursday night and probably won’t be back this year –Â legislators will have to start over from scratch in January.
As the clock wound down, the legislation was stuck in the House Judiciary
Committee, waiting for the sign-off of Poeâs fellow Texan and fellow
Republican Lamar Smith, who chairs the committee, to put
it on the calendar.
Penny Nance, who heads Concerned Women for America, is one of several
major proponents of the bill who suggested that Smithâs committee staff
was letting minor concerns effectively kill a bill that could save
lives by preventing attacks: âI know there is a lot of
well-intentioned staff, but theyâve got to get their big-boy pants on
and get this done.â
House Judiciary Committee aides argued that they were already working
until midnight every night trying to rush 20 bills into law before the
The nut of the problem, though, centered on a provision in the law that
would create a national registry that, as originally envisioned, would
have allowed anyone to see the backlog in his or her area with just a
few mouse clicks.
âWe think we donât publicly post that kind of information on a Web
site,ââ a House Judiciary aide said. âIt could show that such-and-such
law enforcement agency has X rape kits untested in their evidence
locker, but it doesnât paint the whole picture of why they werenât
testedâ and might give an unfairly negative impression.
Not nearly as negative, though, as the impression that preventing more
attacks is just one more thing Congress couldn’t manage to act on â even
at no cost at all. And in theory, at least, with everybody on board.
Melinda Henneberger is a Post political writer and anchors She the People. Follow her on Twitter at @MelindaDC.