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Sweet sprint: Children dash for candy at annual Easter Egg hunt in Auburn

AUBURN — The community Easter egg hunt in Auburn is a family tradition that stretches back decades for Jessi Harvey.

Harvey's son Landon Guy, 7, was one of hundreds of children who participated in the stampede for 9,000 plastic treasures in Hoopes Park Saturday morning. Harvey said she recalls dashing for eggs herself in the event 25 years ago.

With a wide smile and eyes zeroed in squarely on the egg in his hands after the hunt was over, Landon bobbed his body up and down excitedly as he opened the shell to find two Tootsie Rolls inside. Harvey said she believed many adults out in the park were out for the same reasons she was.

"A lot of them are my age that I can see, people that I went to school with, so I imagine that (they had) done it as kids, and they're just carrying on the tradition doing it with their kids," Harvey said.

The hunt, which has been held annually for 69 years, was organized by the Owasco-Fleming Kiwanis Club. Children ranging from toddlers to age 9 were allowed to participate, with different age ranges split into separate parts of the park. Aiden Bacon, 6, and Tyler Bacon, 5, bent their knees to get closer to the ground in the final moments before the event's beginning while being as close as possible to the yellow tape blocking off the egg-filled perimeter.

Children bolted past the tape the moment a siren's blast tore through the air. Some hunters simply scooped up every nearby egg that they could grab, while others ran from one side of the tape to the other. Some adults went over the tape as well, pointing out eggs still within sight or carrying the multi-colored haul. Within minutes, the goods that had littered the park grass were mostly picked clean.

Once the dust settled, friends Eliana Georgi and Luke Young, both 5, walked away with separate baskets filled to the brim with eggs. Eliana's mother, Kara Georgi, said they are friends with Luke and his mother, Crystal Young, and just happened to run into them. Kara said she enjoyed watching Eliana and Luke "feed off" each other's excitement, counting down the minutes before the hunt began. The event was "very simple, low stress, but lots of fun," Kara said.

Club president Willard Schwarting said 240 pounds of Tootsie Rolls were donated for the event. Certain eggs scattered throughout the park earned children special prizes such as a stuffed animal or a bike, he said. Schwarting said he believed many adults at the event participated when they were children and were getting the next generation involved.

"For at least a day, it makes everyone feel like a child," Schwarting said

State assists assault victims

In a victory for sexual assault survivors, the $168.3 billion state budget agreement will extend the length of time rape kits are stored in New York.

The final 2018-19 state budget will require rape kits to be stored for a minimum of 20 years. The current standard is 30 days, which has been problematic for sexual assault survivors. Advocates have said the 30-day retention period doesn't give survivors enough time to push for the prosecution of their attacker.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed extending the storage timeline from 30 days to five years. Some sexual assault survivors criticized the proposal because they didn't believe it went far enough.

One of the advocates who pressed the state to extend the evidence storage time frame to 20 years was Amanda Nguyen, who founded Rise, an organization that advocates for sexual assault survivors' civil rights.

Nguyen, a sexual assault survivor, said her group heard stories from New York victims who had their rape kits destroyed. The federal standard is 20 years for rape kit storage. Nguyen helped draft the legislation Congress passed and then-President Barack Obama signed in 2016 to allow for a longer storage period.

"Even if it is moved to five years, it's still substantially less than the rest of the nation which means that a New York survivor who is raped will still have less civil rights than his or her counterparts in the rest of the United States of America," Nguyen told The Citizen in January.

There was a separate proposal from bipartisan members of the state Legislature to store rape kits for 20 years. The legislation was sponsored by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, a Democrat, and state Sen. Kemp Hannon, a Republican who chairs the Senate Health Committee.

The bipartisan support clearly had an impact. Cuomo and legislative leaders made the 20-year minimum for retaining sexual assault evidence a priority in the budget.

Under the new law, rape kits will be stored 20 years from the date of collection. This will include clothing, cotton swabs, slides and other relevant items, which will be identified with a code matching the survivor's medical records.

Before the 20-year storage period expires, a survivor must be notified at least 90 days in advance that the evidence will be discarded. Survivors may request their clothing and other personal items at any time, according to the new law. And they must be given an opportunity to provide contact information so they can be notified of the planned destruction of the rape kits.

Other provisions linked to the 20-year storage requirement also address another important question: Where will the rape kits be stored? One of the challenges facing hospitals, if they were to store the rape kits for two decades or more, is space. The state budget addresses that concern by outlining a plan for designating a facility, or multiple facilities, for storing the evidence.

Beginning this year, the state Department of Health, the state Office of Victim Services, the Department of Criminal Justice Services and the state police will study and issue recommendations for storing sexual assault evidence. The agencies will study options for using facilities owned by the state or local governments or the possibility of using privately-run sites.

By December 2019, the agencies must submit a plan to the state budget director and the legislative leaders that recommends at least one storage location for rape kits and a schedule for transferring the kits from hospitals to the designated site by April 1, 2021.

Hospitals will be expected to store the rape kits until April 1, 2021 unless other facilities are designated before that date, according to the budget text. When the rape kits are transferred from the hospital to the new storage location, sexual assault survivors must be notified of the move.

Beginning after April 1, 2021, hospitals must transfer the sexual assault evidence to the new storage facilities within 10 days of collection.

The rape kits may be removed from storage only if law enforcement requests the evidence or if a survivor grants permission to release the kits to police. The survivors have the authority to direct the storage facility to dispose of the rape kits before the 20-year period expires.

Speaking at a press conference Friday, Cuomo said the longer time frame for storing rape kits will help prosecute the attackers.

"We know that DNA is now the fingerprint for many crimes," he said. "We haven't been keeping rape kits long enough to really have a database that we can then go back to. Increasing it from 30 days, you never really had an opportunity to build up a database. Now you'll have 20 years of data." ​