House votes to raise sheriffs’ pay, test sexual assault kits

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BOSTON (SHNS) – State representatives voted Tuesday to add $5.3 million in spending on public safety and judicial matters to their fiscal 2022 budget, approving a mega-amendment that includes a slew of earmarks for local police and fire departments.

The House voted 158-1 in favor of the amendment, with Somerville Rep. Erika Uyterhoeven voting no. Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Michael Day said the amendment makes “investments that will uplift the marginalized, keep our communities safe and continue our march to equal justice under the law for all of our residents.”

The amendment boosted rates for attorneys working with Committee on Public Counsel Services and would also raise sheriffs’ pay, replacing a section of state law that sets specific salary levels for each county sheriff with new language that assigns each a percentage of the $171,561 annual salary for district attorneys — 57 percent for Nantucket County, 71 percent for Dukes, and 90 percent in all other counties.

Rep. Natalie Higgins highlighted a proposal of hers that House leaders included in the consolidated amendment regarding the testing of sexual assault evidence kits. Higgins said it was uncovered earlier this year that nearly 6,300 investigatory sexual assault evidence kits from the past 20 years remained untested or partially tested, though a 2019 supplemental budget appropriated $8 million to address a backlog of untested kits.

She said there “seems to be some confusion about whether investigatory sexual assault evidence kits that were already at the crime lab needed to be fully tested,” and that the amendment would “reassert the House’s intention to test these kits.”

“To the 6,300 sexual violence survivors who may not have had their sexual assault evidence kits fully tested, the Massachusetts House of Representatives stands with you,” she said. “We believe you and we thank you for the courage to come forward and report the violence perpetrated against you.”

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