BISMARCK — The North Dakota Legislature has approved the creation of a statewide system to keep track of sexual assault kits.

The House voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 2281 on Monday, April 12. The vote comes about two months after the Senate backed the proposed legislation that would allow the state crime lab to develop and manage an electronic tracking system that would keep tabs on the kits used to collect sexual assault evidence.

If Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signs off on the bill, North Dakota will join a growing number of states that have created tracking systems for the kits. Asked whether Burgum will sign the bill, his spokesman Mike Nowatzki said “the governor generally doesn’t comment on pending legislation before it reaches his desk.”

“The DNA evidence collected in these kits is critical for helping convict offenders or, equally as important, helping exonerate those who are not guilty,” Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, said Monday.

Along with law enforcement, sexual assault survivors also would be able to track their kits, which would give them a “sense of control that is critical to their healing,” Hanson said. The system won’t be open to the public, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem previously told The Forum.

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North Dakota would receive $255,000 for the 2021-2023 biennium from the federal government so the state crime lab can create the tracking system. After that, it's expected to cost $25,000 a year to maintain the effort.

The attorney general’s office has been distributing sexual assault kits to law enforcement across North Dakota, but the office didn’t know what happened to all of those kits, Stenehjem said when he testified on the bill in a committee hearing.

Advocates and Stenehjem have said the creation of a tracking system is a much needed program in North Dakota. It not only could help solve more cases but also encourage more sexual assault survivors to come forward if they know kits will be tracked and analyzed.