Here’s what The Atlanta Journal Constitution had to say about the passage of HB 827, Georgia’s Rape Kit bill:
It had the overwhelming support of bipartisan lawmakers, buy-in from law enforcement and hospital groups, and backing from Gov. Nathan Deal. And yet legislation to require police to find and count untested sexual assault evidence almost didn’t become law in Georgia this year.
The rape kit bill, which Deal is set to sign into law Tuesday, proves yet again that even the most seemingly innocuous proposals can stir up major controversy under the Gold Dome.
“You get personalities involved. You get personal feelings involved. You get power struggles — I’ve seen it happen over and over again,” said George Hooks, a legislative historian who spent 32 years in the state Senate. “Sometimes that gets good legislation blocked. This time it didn’t.”
The legislation was spurred in part by an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation last year that found more than 1,400 kits went untested at Grady Memorial Hospital — even though victims wanted them transferred to law enforcement. Police had failed to pick them up, and the hospital was keeping them on the mistaken belief that federal regulations barred their release.
Reporter Greg Bluestein details how the process was saved from the hurt feelings of state senator Renee Unterman:
It seemed on the fast track after it breezed through the House on a 160-0 vote in late February, but it was blocked in the state Senate by state Sen. Renee Unterman, a Buford Republican who surprised, then enraged, supporters of the bill by digging in as the pressure mounted.
Unterman, who serves as chairwoman of the Senate health committee charged with vetting the legislation, contended there was no need for a statewide measure to solve a problem arising from an Atlanta hospital, although untested rape kit evidence was found across the state. She said a federal grant was funding work to clear the backlog.
She also accused Democratic state Rep. Scott Holcomb, the main sponsor of the bill and considered a rising star in his party, of politicizing the debate. In an interview, Unterman repeatedly pointed to her record shepherding women’s rights issues through the Legislature and said she was unfairly painted as an obstacle for opposing a measure she felt wasn’t necessary.
”The Democrats used it. They exploited the issue, and they used it as a wedge issue. I think that’s pretty sad that they politicized something as volatile as rape,” said Unterman, until this year the sole Republican woman in her chamber.
“If anyone could step up to the plate and do something about it,” she said, “I’m the one who would have done it.”
Soon, the opposition became the butt of late-night talk shows. Political satirist Samantha Bee lampooned her by name on her TBS show “Full Frontal,” and Unterman and her Republican allies were bombarded with emails and social media messages urging her to change her stance. It quickly raised the stakes and made the debate a national story line.
See? Revolution works!