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Gov. proposes $8.5M for state's crime labs

Funds will help in processing thousands of untested rape kits

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Florida Department of Law Enforcement's effort to test thousands of rape kits could soon get a boost after Gov. Rick Scott announced Wednesday that he has proposed $8.5 million to fund enhancements for Florida's crime labs.

The money includes funding for lab equipment, DNA database upgrades and crime scene vehicles, which will reduce the turnaround time for processing evidence, including rape kits.

"The $8.5 million investment we are announcing today is critical to giving innocent victims the answers they rightfully deserve, including the thousands of women who have been victims to absolutely horrific, violent crimes," Scott said.

FDLE said it is completing a survey of the untested rape kits and will announce a plan to deal with the backlog once it is completed. The survey so far has found 10,900 kits in evidence lockers across Florida. Costs remain an issue, as testing each kit costs between $750 and $900.

One woman told News4Jax that it took the FDLE 10 years to test her rape kit after she was attacked in Jacksonville. She said she hopes the funds will help other victims get those results more quickly.

"They would be able to catch these people sooner. They would be able to get victims justice sooner," the woman said.

The issue has drawn heavy attention since Attorney General Pam Bondi held a news conference in September and disclosed that thousands of rape kits were untested across the state. Bondi called for more funding for crime labs, and lawmakers have also proposed bills aimed at speeding up the testing of evidence in sexual assault cases.

Bondi issued a statement Wednesday thanking Scott for the funding proposal, which will be considered during the 2016 legislative session. 

"Sexual assault is a horrific crime that has profound effects on its victims, and processing these kits will unbind key DNA evidence linked to unsolved crimes in Florida and beyond," Bondi said. 

State Attorney Angela Corey said she's thrilled with the announcement because her office is so dependent on lab work and the FDLE.

"Any time the governor steps in to help us with our victims' rights and with this kind of initiative where we're going to be able to prosecute cases more vigorously, then we're just thrilled with the news," Corey said.