Gov. Rick Scott signed bills into law Wednesday to require law enforcement agencies to turn over rape kits for testing within 30 days and to create a needle exchange pilot program for drug users.
The need to quickly test rape kits arose as an issue after an audit showed Florida had about 13,000 untested kits. The state is also allocating money to reduce that backlog. Once turned over to the state's crime lab, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will have 120 days to process the kits.
"This legislation will provide thousands of women with a renewed sense of safety and closure as they heal from the horrific crime of rape,'' Scott said in a press release.
The issue was a top priority for Attorney General Pam Bondi, who brought attention to the problem last year.
"As a career prosecutor, I have seen first-hand the heartache caused by sexual assault, and this legislation is a significant step toward bringing more predators to justice,'' Bondi said in a statement.
The needle exchange program will be run by the University of Miami, which will use mobile health clinics to reach neighborhoods known for drug use. It's designed to help slow the spread of HIV/AIDS caused by shared needles.
The program also will offer HIV and hepatitis screenings and provide participants with information on the transmission of the diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last year that Florida diagnosed more HIV cases in 2013 than any other state.
"There's now a scientific and political consensus that drug use is best treated as a health issue,'' said Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Hopefully this pilot syringe program is just the beginning of major changes in Florida.''
Both laws take effect July 1.