CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislation to regulate and improve the training of nurses who collect forensic evidence in sexual assault cases was passed by the West Virginia House on Wednesday.
The Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Commission would regulate Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, or registered nurses who are trained to care for sexual assault victims, at the county and state levels.
Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, a Democrat from Monongalia who sponsored the bill, said it would set up a structure where evidence can be removed properly and later used in court.
Speaking in favor of the bill, Delegate Carol Miller, R-Cabell, said the West Virginia State Police Forensics Lab estimates up to 75 percent of rape kits have collection or documentation errors.
She said it's important for forensic evidence to be collected and documented appropriately to protect the integrity of the DNA, and doing so will lead to increased convictions and justice for victims.
Patricia Bailey, executive director of Women's Resource Center based in Raleigh County, said the commission will set statewide regulations on minimal SANE nurse qualifications.
"This is huge for the rape crisis centers in the state and for victims of sexual assault because often forensic examinations are the only way victims can receive justice. We wait with fingers crossed as it goes to the Senate,'' she said.
Miller added that Marshall University's Forensic Science Center has trained 246 SANE nurses affiliated with 40 hospitals to conduct adult or pediatric exams.
According to the West Virginia Foundation for Rape Information and Services, SANE nurse training is also conducted at West Virginia University and, occasionally, at individual hospitals.
The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House and will be sent to the Senate for deliberation.