In a video ad, Democratic lieutenant governor nominee Leticia Van de Putte presents Republican nominee Dan Patrick as too extreme on vital public safety issues.
The ad’s narrator initially says Patrick, a Houston senator, "would deny victims of rape any options at all," a claim rooted in Patrick’s statement in a January 2014 debate that he would permit an abortion only to save the life of an endangered mother.
"And," the narrator says, "he voted against funding to test the backlog of rape kits. Allowing rapists to walk free." Patrick, the narrator says, "is just too dangerous."
Did Patrick vote against testing backlogged rape kits, letting rapists walk?
Van de Putte cites Patrick vote against 2014-15 state budget
Manny Garcia, a spokesman for Van de Putte, a San Antonio state senator, told us by email the basis of her rape-kit claim was Patrick’s vote against the final version of the overall 2014-15 state budget that cleared the Senate in May 2013.
A backup document Garcia sent over noted a June 6, 2013, Texas Tribune news story stating that the budget allotted $11 million to the Texas Department of Public Safety "to help address the state’s massive backlog of untested rape kits.
"In 2011," the story said, "the Legislature passed Senate Bill 1636, by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, which requires that state law enforcement agencies report the number of untested rape kits and submit a certain number to DPS for testing." The story said the new funding would "cover the outsourcing costs to have the kits tested, and DPS estimates that based on historical data, about half of the untested kits will yield traces of DNA." According to legislative records, Davis in May 2011 won unanimous Senate approval of her proposal when it was sent to the House and again in the body’s concurrence with House amendments--meaning Patrick voted "aye" twice as well.
We asked the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault about the impact of the funding. A staff attorney, Chris Kaiser, said by email the tests are just starting to happen, but it’s "reasonable to assume that out of all those kits there will be some investigations and prosecutions resulting from DNA hits. However, we’re talking about fairly long-term effects of the 82nd Legislature’s funding, not immediate analysis that is helping to scoop offenders off the streets today."
Patrick’s actions in 2013 session
Next, we focused on Patrick’s actions.
As noted in a previous fact check, Patrick was among four senators who voted against the final version of the 2014-15 state budget. In a May 30, 2013, public interview with the Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith, Patrick said he voted "no" -- after backing earlier versions -- because education initiatives, including funds to pay for students to take the SAT, weren’t in it. He did not mention the budgeted money to test the kits.
Legislative records show Patrick supporting, and even having a hand in launching, the spending to test the kits.
Patrick serves on the Senate Finance Committee, which on March 13, 2013, unanimously voted in favor of the panel’s version of Senate Bill 1, the budget act, including the money for testing the kits.
To our inquiry about Patrick’s position on the rape-kit expenditure in the 2013 session, Torie Camp, an Austin consultant who was then a TAASA official, emailed us what she described as a March 13, 2013, Senate Finance Committee document indicating Patrick was among a subset of senators to initially put the kit funding into the budget.
The document, including the typed notation "tentative work group decisions," indicates several committee members, including Patrick, were tasked as a "work group" with resolving the finance panel’s public safety new spending items. And, the document indicates, those senators by that date had agreed to pencil in $10.95 million in state revenue to pay for outsourcing DNA screening and testing services for approximately 10,000 sexual assault kits a year. (The document is also posted online by the Legislative Budget Board which has also posted a similar document indicating the commitment of money to the kits was an unsettled issue for senators as of Feb. 12, 2013.)
On March 20, 2013, Patrick was among 28 senators who voted to advance the budget (including the kit-test funding) to the House, according to the Senate Journal entry for that day. Two senators (though not Patrick) voted "no."
Generally in the 2013 session, Camp said by phone, "we never got a sense that anybody was opposed to this money in there. This wasn’t something anybody wanted to oppose."
Rapists walking free?
Camp said that after the budget took effect in September 2013, DPS proceeded to bid out the tests of the kits to private laboratories which, Camp said, started working through kits in fall 2014. Camp said it makes sense that some of the resulting DNA "hits," to be passed along by DPS to local police departments, will lead to individuals being convicted of assaults -- and be taken off the streets. For now," she said, "we’re just not far enough into the process to know we’re going to take sexual offenders off the streets. But my guess is we will."
By email, DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said that effective June 2014, the agency had an agreement for the University of North Texas Health Science Center to test about 1,000 kits. Also, Vinger said, the department has contracted with companies in Dallas and Virginia to test the kits. "In the coming months, we will ultimately direct agencies where to send their kits," he said. "The actual testing is expected to take place over two years."
Vinger said DPS doesn’t track successful prosecutions related to sexual assault testing — whether via kits or other evidence.
Vinger also said "backlog" is misleading in reference to the kits now being tested since most of them hadn’t previously been submitted to a crime lab for testing, based on decisions by local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, he said.
In August 2013, according to a New York Times/Texas Tribune news story published at the time, DPS estimated there were close to 20,000 untested kits statewide per information from various law enforcement agencies. The story said the untested kits had collected in police evidence rooms amid tight budgets, overworked crime labs and, in some cases, determinations by authorities that there was insufficient cause to test a kit.
By email, we pointed out to Van de Putte that Patrick evidently played a role in initially putting the money for testing the kits into the budget and there is no indication his vote against the full final budget allowed rapists to walk. Garcia, stressing Patrick’s opposition to the final budget, emailed: "If it was up to him alone, the budget would not have passed at that point in time, Meaning that testing for the rape kits would not be funded."
Van de Putte said Patrick voted "against funding to test the backlog of rape kits, allowing rapists to walk free."
This claim is flawed in various ways -- starting with blaming Patrick for a result that didn’t come to be. In reality, Patrick appears to have been among senators to initially put the kit-test funding into the state budget. And while he voted against the final overall budget, there’s no indication he did so to stop the kits from being tested. Also, the contention that rapists walked free as a result of Patrick’s action is incorrect. The funding (to repeat) passed into law.
When a statement is incorrect and ridiculous, the Truth-O-Meter warms up in a hurry. Pants on Fire!
PANTS ON FIRE – The statement is not accurate and makes a ridiculous claim.
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