New Jersey state lawmakers are seeking to address a serious lapse in the criminal justice process that unduly burdens victims of sexual assault. Under current federal law, health care providers must be reimbursed for collecting forensic evidence from a sexual assault victim. While all invoices for these services are supposed to go to the appropriate government agencies for review and payment, victims “frequently receive such invoices due to administrative errors or attempts to get payment from a victim’s insurance company.”
The New Jersey bill, which “overwhelmingly passed” both state chambers, would prohibit health care providers from sending those invoices directly to the victims. Calling it the “right thing to do,” bill sponsor state Rep. Annette Quijano (D) said, “I see no reason why we should add to that suffering by essentially forcing them to pay for the investigation into their own assault.” In a seemingly rare show of bipartisanship, state Sen. Diane Allen (R) — who sponsored the companion bill in the state Senate — agreed that such an “inhumane practice” needed to be prevented:
Under the proposal, victims could not be billed for services directly associated with forensic sexual assault examinations. This would include routine medical screening, medications to prevent sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy tests and emergency contraception, as well as supplies, equipment and use of space.
“In no other crime would it even be contemplated that victims receive an invoice for the collection of evidence needed to prosecute the offenders,” said Sen. Diane Allen, R-Burlington, who sponsored the measure in that chamber along with Sen. James Beach, D-Voorhees.
“Victims who receive a bill are needlessly forced to relive their attack all over again by the very people to whom they turned for help. This legislation will prevent this inhumane practice in New Jersey,” Allen said.
The state Senate approved the bill in late March, while the state Assembly passed it in late June. Gov. Chris Christie (R) has yet to sign the bill as it “remains under review by his office.” Christie has yet to personally address the matter, and “it’s not clear when Christie will act on the bill.”