SANTA FE ― House Bill 536 was chaptered into law last week, creating a first-in-the-nation mechanism to allow New Mexicans to donate a portion of their tax returns to pay for the testing of sexual assault evidence kits in the state.
According to the Office of the State Auditor, as of November 2016, there is an estimated backlog of 5,400 untested rape kits throughout the state of New Mexico. Testing each kit costs as much as $1,000, money which the state and some municipal governments do not have enough of to address their backlog.
“We have a big problem when it comes to sexual assault in New Mexico, with one of the highest rates of sexual assault in the nation and the largest backlog,” said bill sponsor Rep. Bealquin “Bill” Gomez (D-Doña Ana). “The passage and signing of this bill is a small step towards the wider goal of ensuring that all survivors of sexual assault are supported and that justice is served in a timely and accurate manner. It is my hope that the general public recognizes the importance of this legislation and provide the financial support that is desperately needed for us to solve this huge problem.”
House Bill 536 is meant to supplement rather than replace current funding streams for the testing of rape kits in New Mexico. Donated funds would be equally split with providing services for sexual assault survivors and rape kit testing.
House Bill 536 and similar bills have gained national coverage in the New York Times for their innovative use of crowdfunding to pay for the testing rape kits which frequently experience backlogs due to underfunding and laboratory staff shortages. HB 536 is one of the first bills of its kind to be enacted nationally passing unanimously through both the House and Senate and will be enacted in July of this year.
Read the article regarding this and similar legislation in the New York Times here.