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Senate committee OKs $125 million to tackle DNA evidence backlog

These are just some of the sexual assault kits found in the Robbins Police Department's evidence room in 2013. Once they were found, they only added to the growing backlog of evidence kits awaiting testing across the country. | File photo

The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved $125 million to help reduce a backlog of DNA evidence awaiting testing across the country, including Illinois, according to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk.

Kirk (R-Ill.) said the money will “help victims of violence throughout Illinois.”

The president’s budget had cut $20 million for such testing, but the committee restored and added to the funding, according to Kirk’s office. It was part of a larger funding bill that passed 30-0 and awaits full approval by Congress.

Kirk’s announcement follows a national forum held in Chicago over backlogs in the testing of sexual assault evidence kits in crime labs across the nation.

The Illinois State Police crime lab’s backlog of forensic biology and DNA testing involves nearly 2,200 criminal sexual assault cases, the director of the lab said. Despite recent hires and scientists in training, the lab also is undermanned.

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill. said the additional federal funds will help states tackle the backlog in evidence testing. | AP file photo

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk R-Ill. said the additional federal funds will help states tackle the backlog in evidence testing. | AP file photo

Police and prosecutors in Chicago say they typically wait a year for DNA test results.

According to Kirk’s office, the U.S. Senate funding would include $117 million for DNA backlog reduction, $4 million for post-conviction DNA testing and $4 million for sexual assault nurse examiners.

The Department of Justice would have to use 5 percent of the funding for grants to local law enforcement agencies to conduct audits on their backlogs and prioritize testing rape kits in cases facing an expiring statute of limitations.