A state law kicks in Wednesday that will mandate new standards for testing of sexual assault examination kits, the latest in a growing effort by some state leaders to improve how the state deals with rape cases.
The measure taking effect Aug. 1 requires law enforcement officials to retrieve a kit from a health care professional within 10 days and have it tested within 60 days.
If authorities decide that the results would not prove to be significant evidence in the case, a record stating why must be filled out. An assault victim will have the right to information about the status of a kit, and the failure of an agency to meet the deadlines won’t affect the admissibility of the results in court.
Along with another new law requiring Minnesota hotels and motels to train their employees to detect signs of sex trafficking at their establishments, the new assault kit standards represent the beginning of a broader legislative push to change the way the state handles rape allegations, said Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake.
O’Neill, a sexual assault survivor, sponsored the assault kit measure after a 2015 audit revealed more than 3,400 untested kits sitting in police storage across the state.
“This came out because there were so many victims that were not getting satisfaction,” she said.
O’Neill added that she hoped the Legislature will do more to address the issue in next year’s session, particularly with regard to the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases. The state’s system of handling cases still needs improvement, O’Neill said, referring to a recent Star Tribune investigation that documented pervasive failings in police work on sexual assaults.
O’Neill said she hopes to pursue the issue with legislation to address the state’s lack of trained investigators and sexual assault nurse examiners, as well as taking a look at extending the statute of limitations for prosecuting sex crimes.
“Now I just hope that law enforcement and prosecutors and the court will follow suit,” she said. “There is so much in the system that needs to change, I don’t even know where to start.”
Among the scores of other new laws taking effect Wednesday is one that makes it criminal for pet owners to pose their canines as trained service dogs.
The legislation, signed in April by Gov. Mark Dayton, imposes stricter sanctions on those seeking permission to bring their dog to public places. First-time violators will be charged with a petty misdemeanor and face misdemeanor charges for subsequent offenses.
Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston, said he sponsored the bill after an elderly constituent’s service dog had to be put down because it was attacked by another dog whose owner had passed it off at a public establishment as a service animal.
Under the Minnesota Human Rights Act, it is “an unfair discriminatory practice” for a public facility to prohibit someone with a physical or sensory disability from bringing a service animal.
But the new law makes clear that canine companions for emotional support don’t qualify for special rights or privileges, and that only dogs can be considered service animals.
“You can’t necessarily bring your parrot or peacock on the airplane because you think you need it,” Green said. “We still have to protect the public, and that should be our main goal.”
Green said he hoped the new law will raise awareness, adding that “the idea behind it — as with any law — is not necessarily to go out and punish people, but to curb bad behavior.”
Another new law offers a “bill of rights” for foster children that guarantees them the right to visit their siblings. And starting Wednesday, unmarried parents will be able to file joint petitions for child custody, something that only divorced couples have been able to do.