State will test about two-thirds of 6K untested rape kits, Attorney General says

By Molly Beck, Wisconsin State Journal

Attorney General Brad Schimel said the state will likely end up testing about 65 percent of the about 6,000 untested sexual assault evidence kits in Wisconsin. 

Schimel told the state's budget-writing committee at a hearing on the 2017-19 state budget Wednesday that crime laboratories tasked with testing the kits are receiving about 200 per month and after the Department of Justice's effort to test Wisconsin's untested kits is complete, about 3,800 to 4,000 will likely be tested ultimately. 

That's because not all of the 6,000 kits will need to be tested, Schimel said, because some of the kits could be related to cases that have already been solved, or permission to test the kits may not be obtained from all of the sexual assault victims the kits belong to. About 450 kits have been submitted for testing so far, he said. 

The DOJ has been mounting a campaign to reach out to sexual assault victims to let them know the status of the evidence from their sexual assault and to seek permission to test the evidence kit if the case is still unsolved. The state in 2014 completed a process to identify all untested kits in the state from shelves in law enforcement agencies and hospitals. 

Now, as DOJ officials work to test kits they deem appropriate, officials have adopted a policy not to test kits if victims say no. Schimel said Wednesday testing kits without consent would violate victims' privacy. 

Schimel defended that approach, saying the laboratories designed to handle such testing are being overwhelmed by other communities who send all untested kits without identifying only the ones deemed necessary. Detroit law enforcement, he said as an example, submitted 11,000 kits for testing.

Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, pushed back, citing the hundreds of sexual assault convictions and serial rapists identified through Detroit's approach. 

"Do you think this approach is worthy of criticism given how many serial rapists it identified?" Shankland asked.

Schimel said he was trying to point out that capacity affects how quickly the kits can be tested.

Schimel also was questioned by Democratic members of the Joint Finance Committee about whether spending $10,000 on what are known as challenge coins with the inscribed DOJ motto "KAED" which stands for "Kicking Ass Every Day."

"Do you think that's a good idea?" Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, asked Schimel. 

"I do," Schimel responded. 

Schimel said DOJ staff "deserved a better motto"after he was elected because DOJ staff work harder than other more lazy government workers he compared to FOX cartoon "The Simpsons" characters Patty and Selma Bouvier who both work at the Springfield Department of Motor Vehicles

Erpenbach said Schimel's characterization of some government workers was offensive. 

Schimel said public reaction has been mostly positive but that he probably won't be making the purchase again because he didn't know when he made the purchase how much the 2,000-coin purchase would end up being, and that the amount of coins he has on hand is "sufficient."

He said the coins are important because they boost morale for government workers and law enforcement officials who don't otherwise receive monetary bonuses for their work. 

"Given that your number one job is public safety, I have no problem with you kicking ass every day," said Joint Finance Committee co-chairman Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, to Schimel.

Shankland: DOJ is soft on polluters 

Democrats also on Wednesday criticized Schimel for using state dollars to challenge federal laws and policies under former President Barack Obama's administration.

Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, questioned why more of that money was instead put toward the department's consumer protection unit.  

Shankland also criticized Schimel for being soft on companies that produce high levels of environmental pollution. She said Schimel works with polluters rather than levying stiff forfeitures and issuing a legal opinion that state regulators lack the authority to consider high-capacity wells' cumulative impacts on state waters.

She also chastised him for challenging federal laws, including Obama's health care changes as his rules on immigration and transgender bathroom use.

Schimel countered that he has leveraged concessions from polluters that will make the state cleaner, concessions he couldn't have gotten if he'd just slapped them with fines and his federal challenges were all approved by either Gov. Scott Walker or the Legislature.