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Victims' bills could have local impact

CHEYENNE – Two bills that passed the Wyoming State Legislature are headed to the governor’s desk for approval, both of which would expand victims services and extend the time a victim would be eligible for benefits in the case of violent crimes.

House Bill 45 extends the amount of time victims of crime can claim expenses for mental health treatment from 24 months to 36 months.

Bob Vines, witness and victims coordinator with the Washakie County Attorney’s Office, sees the move as a good one, since some cases can drag on beyond two years in the courts.

“What we find is that the wheels of justice moves slowly, so victim benefits often run out before trial,” said Vines. “This gives them the option to extend those benefits. Two years of counseling won’t get them through their trial in many cases.”

Senate File 72 specifically reorganizes the way sexual assault evidence (rape kits) is handled by the state, and releases the financial burden from the victim.

The bill effectively requires the state to keep and manage statistics related to sexual assault and report on lab analysis, prohibiting the destruction of evidence and requiring law enforcement to pay for sexual assault exams, where previously, the victim was expected to pay the bill for the exam.

In Washakie County, victims have had to pay the bill for being tested for sexual assault.

“It should never have happened,” said Vines, who attributed confusion to a large part of the problem.

“It was never clear how much the state would cover, or if insurance covered a sexual assault exam, so this should clear up a lot of that confusion, and make things easier for the hospitals, law enforcement and especially, the victims,” said Vines.

Another important aspect is the tracking and management of the rape kits.

In other states, improper tracking has resulted in lost or disposed-of kits, which never make it to trial as evidence.

“As it stands we don’t know how many untested kits we have in Wyoming, said Vines, “but being able to link DNA results to perpetrators could save many future victims.”

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