The veto and postponing of the budget by Gov. Roy Cooper is delaying millions in much-needed support for rape victims in North Carolina.
Rape victims show incredible courage and strength when submitting themselves to a sexual assault evidence collection kit (SAECK or “rape kit”). And, as a state, it is imperative that we have a timely, informed and accountable process for testing these crucial pieces of evidence.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case — especially under Gov. Cooper’s leadership.
In 2017, it was determined that North Carolina had a total of 15,160 kits that had not been tested. Shockingly, most of these untested kits dated back to crimes committed 20 years ago.
In response, the General Assembly moved quickly to allocate funds in the next two budget cycles to address the concern. A working group was also established by the legislature to collect more data; the working group found that only 7,155 kits were able to be tested due to unreported incidents, guilt admitted by the suspect, and cases being resolved in court.
For me, this is absolutely unacceptable. It has been a top priority to fix this problem and make sure it never happens again.
As many know, the backlog of rape kit testing is not a new issue in North Carolina. Before his term as governor, Roy Cooper was the state’s attorney general for 16 years and was directly in charge of these tests as the supervisor of the State Crime Lab.
During his 2016 campaign, Cooper promised to have those thousands of kits tested. Unfortunately, he has failed at every step, and it appears that rape kit testing is not a priority again this budget year.
By vetoing the bipartisan $24 billion state budget and making any sort of compromise conditional on the sole issue of Medicaid expansion in North Carolina, the governor is denying millions in funding to help clear the rape kit backlog.
That’s right, over $6 million to expedite testing and clear the rape kit backlog at the State Crime Lab, which the governor oversaw for 16 years, is being used as political leverage by Gov. Cooper to force the expansion of government-run Medicaid in our state.
In response to his demands and an effort to find a path forward, the General Assembly has offered to have a special session specifically dedicated to discussing and debating his proposals on Medicaid expansion. We believe the budget — and crucial issues such as this funding to end the rape kit backlog — should not be held up over one single policy issue, especially something as controversial and divisive as Medicaid expansion.
It is a sad day when the governor of our state is willing to push these victims aside to force a partisan, single-item agenda through the legislature. Let’s have a transparent, thoughtful debate on Medicaid expansion instead of holding the entire budget hostage. This only hurts people who depend on the 99% of the budget that we agree on.
The governor should call the General Assembly into a special session to deal with health care issues, but he refuses to do so — causing further harm and uncertainty to victims of one of the most atrocious crimes one can commit.
According to the Sexual Assault Evidence Kits Working Group, created by the General Assembly: “Timely testing is vital to solve cases, punish offenders, bring justice to victims, and prevent future crimes. It is the intent of the General Assembly that every sexual assault evidence collection kit in North Carolina be tested. Sexual assault victims deserve no less.”
Will Gov. Cooper support victims of such violent and heinous crimes, or will he remain unmovable in his stance for Medicaid expansion to the detriment of thousands of North Carolinians?
Rep. Sarah Stevens is currently the Speaker Pro Tempore and in her sixth term serving the people of Alleghany, Surry and Wilkes counties in the North Carolina House of Representatives.