This post was co-published with ProPublica.
Good financial news out of California is rare these days, but one key crime-fighting agency has emerged from the state’s recent budget slashing unscathed: The state crime lab.
In June, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund and ProPublica revealed how a proposed $20 million cut to the lab would likely halt or delay the testing of rape kits, DNA and other crucial crime scene evidence in many California counties. Advocates for crime victims worried that testing delays would allow violent criminals to remain on the streets.
Although the cut was small in the face of the state’s $26 billion shortfall, it would have represented half the lab’s budget.
But California’s budget was finalized this week, and funds for the crime lab remained intact. The lab’s budget also dodged the ink of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line-item veto pen.
Gail Abarbanel, who heads the rape treatment program at the Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center, had called the cuts “a public safety emergency.” Today, Arbabanel said she was “ecstatic and relieved.”
The decision was unexpected. The proposed cut was approved by the state’s budget committee in June and seemed a lock for inclusion in the finalized budget. But then law enforcement agencies lobbied lawmakers and state Assemblyman Ted Lieu intervened.
“It was a team effort,” Lieu, a Democrat from Southern California, told us. “I went to the [state Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass] and said we need to restore this money because the cut goes against everything we stand for.”
If it had passed, the lab would have had to charge law enforcement agencies in 47 of the state’s 58 counties for evidence tests it has always provided for free, even though many of those agencies are facing budget cuts of their own.
As we’ve previously reported, the lab already has one of the largest backlogs of untested DNA evidence in any state lab. It hasn’t tested more than 150 DNA samples from crime scenes and 60,000 from people arrested or convicted of crimes.
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