This vote was on a Republican amendment aimed at reducing the backlog of untested DNA evidence from sexual assault cases, requiring tougher prison sentences for convicted sex criminals, and creating a national DNA database to help track serial sex offenders.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) offered the amendment during consideration of legislation renewing the Violence Against Women Act, which provides grants and other assistance to reduce domestic and sexual violence. Sen. Cornyn’s amendment was similar to a competing Democratic amendment that would have increased funding for grants to reduce the national backlog of “rape kits,” which are used to collect evidence in alleged sexual assault cases. However, Sen. Cornyn’s amendment included extra provisions that would set minimum prison sentences for sexual offenders, mandate an audit of the national rape kit backlog, and create a national DNA database. It also included a “Sense of the Senate” provision – essentially a statement of the Senate’s opinion that is not legally binding – calling on a classified-ad website to take down its “adult services” section, which Sen. Cornyn said had been used by child sex traffickers.
Sen. Cornyn argued that his amendment would take critical steps to address the “national scandal” of the rape kit backlog, as well as help law enforcement crack down on sex offenders.
“For far too long, untested rape kits have been piling up due to limited resources prescribed by antiquated laws, denying justice and compounding the pain for an untold number of victims in cities across Texas and the nation,” Sen. Cornyn said. “This legislation will cut down on the unacceptable backlogs of rape kits sitting in crime labs nationwide, toughen sentencing for some of our most reprehensible criminals, and give new tools to law enforcement to track sex offenders who dodge registration.”
Opponents of Sen. Cornyn’s amendment said that while they supported the parts of the amendment that mirrored the Democratic proposal, its requirements for a national DNA database would divert funding from more critical efforts to reduce the backlog of rape kits.
“The Cornyn amendment is well intentioned, but it will undermine, rather than enhance, the progress we have made,” Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said. “It could force state and local law enforcement to invest time and resources to comply with onerous and illogical reporting requirements instead of actually responding to calls and investigating sexual assault cases. Key victims' groups have opposed it, saying all the things it adds in here … would actually hurt them.”
Even though 50 senators supported Sen. Cornyn’s amendment and only 48 voted “nay,” the amendment was defeated because it was brought up under Senate rules that require 60 votes for passage. Voting “yea” were 46 Republicans and 4 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 48 Democrats, including a majority of progressives. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to reduce the backlog of untested DNA evidence from sexual assault cases, require tougher prison sentences for convicted sex criminals, and create a national DNA database to help track serial sex offenders.