LOUISVILLE (AP) — Amid a re-election race that increasingly hinges on women’s issues, Republican Mitch McConnell urged his U.S. Senate colleagues Tuesday to quickly reauthorize a federal law aimed at speeding up the processing of rape kits and catching sexual predators before they attack again.
McConnell said police labs nationwide risk losing crucial support unless lawmakers reauthorize the Debbie Smith Act when Congress ends its late-summer recess. The law is set to expire at the end of September. It has been bogged down by attempts to attach other provisions to it, he said.
“Most rapists will attack multiple victims, and passing the Debbie Smith Act is a good way to see them put in jail before they can do more harm,” the Senate’s top-ranking Republican said during a visit to a Kentucky State Police laboratory.
McConnell, seeking a sixth Senate term, has been under relentless attack from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who claims McConnell has been insensitive to women’s issues.
Kentucky’s Senate campaign is one of the nation’s most closely watched and could help determine which party controls the Senate. McConnell made his pitch Tuesday alongside a national advocate for sexual assault victims. The advocate is the namesake of the federal law.
Grimes’ campaign said the McConnell event is another example that “he says one thing in Kentucky and does another in Washington.”
The Democrat’s campaign said the broad, automatic federal spending cuts that McConnell helped negotiate have cut nearly one-fourth of the amount of grants meant to help reduce the DNA testing backlog.
“Mitch McConnell owes the women of Kentucky an explanation for his track record on key issues,” the Grimes campaign said in a release.
Both campaigns released recent TV ads focusing on McConnell’s record on women’s issues.
The Grimes ad notes that McConnell voted against the Violence Against Women Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act.
The Violence Against Women Act passed anyway. The Paycheck Fairness Act has not passed.
McConnell’s ad, featuring his wife, Elaine Chao, notes that the senator sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act and said he has always supported its purpose. McConnell has said he voted against recent renditions because they contained amendments he did not support.
McConnell has said he opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act because it eliminated the statute of limitations on pay discrimination cases.
Debbie Smith, an assault victim herself, praised McConnell’s work on the legislation that bears her name.
“His commitment to this legislation speaks of his devotion to women, to crime victims and their families,” she said.
The law funnels funding to crime labs across the country in an effort to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits.
Laura Sudkamp, the Kentucky State Police’s laboratory system director, said the state risks losing about $700,000 in funding if that law isn’t reauthorized. The funding has provided staff overtime and new equipment to shorten the time to process rape kits, she said.
The funding loss would slow efforts to reduce the state’s rape kit backlog, she said.