Congress OKs bill to cut rape evidence backlog

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress sent President Barack Obama legislation Thursday renewing a soon to expire program that helps local governments cut their backlogs of unexamined DNA evidence in rape cases.

The program provides federal grants to state and local law enforcement agencies so they can speed their analyses of untested evidence kits. Experts say many thousands of such kits are languishing in communities around the country, including some that are many years old.

The Debbie Smith Act is named after a woman who was taken from her home in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 1989 and raped. It took years for the evidence in her case to be examined and her attacker caught. She and other supporters of the program have argued that such delays add further layers of fear and torment to their experiences.

The kits hold DNA and other evidence taken from women's bodies after they report sexual assaults.

The Senate used a voice vote Thursday to give final approval to the bipartisan bill. The measure was approved by the House in April, and it now goes to Obama for his signature.

The legislation renews the program through 2019. Without congressional action, the program would have expired on Oct. 1.

Actual money for the grants will have to be provided in separate spending legislation.

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