ALBANY - Thousands of sexual assault evidence kits that have gone untested across New York will be sent for forensic testing under a bill signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week.
The bill signed by Cuomo will require all police agencies across the state to send their untested rape kits to a forensic laboratory for testing, while newly collected kits will be subject to strict deadlines for testing.
The new law sets uniform time limits on testing the evidence kits for the first time in New York.
In a memo approving the bill, Cuomo said the new law "shines a light on, and tries to resolve, a pressing concern."
"Survivors of sexual assault deserve to have their Evidence Kits processed in the fastest and most effective manner possible," Cuomo wrote.
State lawmakers approved the bill in June.
A 2015 report by the USA TODAY Network found at least 70,000 rape kits across the country remained untested after evidence was collected from victims.
Outside New York City, police agencies were under no state obligation to test sexual assault evidence kits in New York, which the new law changes.
Beginning three months from now, law-enforcement agencies will be required to send rape kits to a forensic lab within 10 days of collecting evidence.
From there, the lab has 90 days to process the kit, submit profiles of potential perpetrators to a national database and return the results.
Another provision in the law requires all police agencies to send their previously collected, untested kits to labs within 180 days.
But Cuomo and the law's sponsors agreed to alter the timeline for old kits, in part because labs were unequipped to handle an expected influx.
Now, police will be tasked with immediately taking inventory of their untested kits and reporting results to the state. After one year, they will have three months to send the existing untested kits to a lab.
That change, along with a series of other protections and tweaks Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to, will be made when lawmakers make their scheduled return to the Capitol in January.
Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, a Queens Democrat who sponsored the bill in her chamber, said she was pleased Cuomo signed the bill.
Simotas said the law will have a "groundbreaking impact on justice for rape survivors."
"The law and the amendment ensure that all rape kits are going to be tested," Simotas said.
Sen. Kemp Hannon, a Long Island Republican, said evidence kits must be tested in a timely fashion "in order for the system to work."
“This new law makes sure that happens uniformly across the state so that survivors know everything is being done to seek justice no matter where in New York state a rape occurs," Hannon, the bill's Senate sponsor, said in a statement.