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Progressive New Laws Tackle Florida's Woeful Rape Case Record And The Spread Of HIV

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 24/03/2016 Chris D'Angelo

Florida Gov.Rick Scott (R) signed two bills into law Wednesday that seek to combat both unsolved rapes and the spread of HIV in the state.

One measure seeks to bring more rapists to justice by requiring that state crime laboratories test rape kits within 120 days of submission. 

Scott said in a statement Wednesday that the law would "provide thousands of women with a renewed sense of safety and closure as they heal from the horrific crime of rape."

A January Florida Department of Law Enforcement report found that the state has a backlog of more than 13,000 untested rape kits, The Associated Press reported. Florida lawmakers have invested $10.7 million for crime labs into the state budget to address the pileup.

A second bill aims to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, hepatitis C and other infectious diseases with a pilot program in Miami-Dade County that will allow drug users to exchange used needles for sterile ones.

Florida leads the nation in new HIV infections. Miami-Dade and Broward counties place at numbers one and two in the U.S. for the rate of new HIV cases per 100,000 residents, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. New cases in Florida totaled 6,240 last year -- the highest since 2002. Miami-Dade and Broward accounted for 38 percent of that total, the Palm Beach Post reports.

The University of Miami will run the privately funded Florida pilot project, which received overwhelming support in the Florida House and Senate.

"I'm thrilled that we were finally able to get this passed," said Dr. Hansel Tookes, who will lead the program, said in a statement. "I stand at the ready to begin putting this program in place, and saving lives, as soon as we can."

Florida joins Indiana, Kentucky and Washington, D.C., which run similar exchange programs. Research has consistently shown that providing sterile needles to drug users reduces infectious disease, ultimately saving lives.

Bill Piper, senior director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement that the consensus among scientists and politicians is that drug use is best treated as a health issue

"Hopefully this pilot syringe program is just the beginning of major changes in Florida," he said.

Both new laws are will take effect July 1, the AP reports. 

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