Advocates want sexual assault bill on special session

March 13, 2014 by Dave Boucher

The creation of statewide and regional boards to streamline medical care and response to victims of sexual violence has been in the works for more than a decade.

Delegate Barb Fleischauer, D-Monongalia

Delegate Barb Fleischauer, D-Monongalia

Last year, the bill that created the sexual assault nurse examination network died on the last night of the legislative session. So when the same measure passed with minutes left in the 2014 session, advocates were ecstatic.

Then they heard there was a technical error in the title of the bill. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin can’t sign a bill that has a technical error.

“For a technical glitch to have stopped it, it’s just devastating,” said Marcia Drake, board president of the West Virginia Foundation for Rape and Information Services.

Drake, several lawmakers and other supporters of the bill are asking the governor to include the legislation for consideration in a special session. Tomblin is expected to call a special session as soon as Friday, after lawmakers finish work on the 2015 budget.

The governor’s office receives hundreds of calls about bills people think he should veto, pass or reconsider in a special session.

The sexual assault nurse examination network measure, House Bill 4236, is worth consideration during special session because everyone agrees its needed, it passed both chambers and the required fix is small, Drake argued.

Above all else, the changes made by the bill are crucial, she said.

“In a nutshell, this will allow for victims of sexual violence to go to a medical facility recognizing that to the best of West Virginia’s ability they are receiving quality care by trained professionals,” Drake said.

That doesn’t necessarily happen all the time, said Delegate Barb Fleischauer, D-Monongalia. Fleischauer, one of several sponsors of the bill, said it’s one of the many medical challenges residents of rural West Virginia must face.

“There have been women that have waited 10 hours for an exam,” Fleischauer said.

Right now there’s no uniform procedure for every area of the state in responding to a person who says they are a victim of sexual violence. That person is supposed to be treated by a trained sexual assault nurse examiner. In many rural areas, especially at night, there’s no one immediately available, Fleischauer said.

For example, she said a victim might need to drive from Marlinton in Pocahontas County to Elkins, in Randolph County, to visit the closest trained examiner. That person might not be available in Elkins at the time the victim arrives, necessitating a drive to Clarksburg or somewhere else that has such trained medical personnel available around the clock.

That whole time, the person who believes they are a victim of sexual assault isn’t supposed to clean him or herself.

“What happens is evidence is being taken off their body,” Fleischauer said. “You would want this dealt with as soon as possible.”

The bill doesn’t create a one-size-fits-all doctrine for the state, Drake said. It leaves the regional boards in control of working with local medical facilities to determine protocol for helping the victims. The state commission would approve the regional board’s decisions, and help if there is a problem, Drake said.

There were some changes made to the original measure in a conference committee the last night of session. However, no member of the House of Delegates or Senate voted against the bill the two times it went before each full chamber.

The measure has 10 co-sponsors–seven Democrats and three Republicans–in addition to Fleischauer.

Drake said supporters of the measure have called the governor’s office to ask for the bill to be taken up in special session, but she isn’t optimistic.

Fleischauer and House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said they are speaking with the governor’s office about putting the bill up for consideration during a special session.

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