A House proposal to charge counties for the state lab's services may frustrate crime fighting efforts, he says.
By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 10, 2003
TALLAHASSEE -- A move by the House to force counties to pay for the services of a state crime laboratory threatens one of the nation's best crime-fighting tools, Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday.
Efforts to solve crime across Florida could be set back by the move, said Bush and other state officials attending a commemoration for victims' rights.
"The lab has an awfully important function," said Attorney General Charlie Crist. "Most of the counties could not afford to staff a lab. It's critical in bringing justice to bear."
The House cut the $32-million annual budget of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's crime lab in half, suggesting that FDLE get the rest from local law enforcement agencies that use the lab.
"Municipalities and sheriff's departments cannot afford the cost of testing all seized drugs and there will be a great reduction in our ability to solve serious homicides and rapes when we don't have a suspect," said Live Oak State Attorney Jerry Blair.
"We've spent the last 12 to 15 years building the very best forensic lab in America," said FDLE Commissioner James T. "Tim" Moore. "We are the largest accredited lab in the nation. We didn't have any of the quality problems the FBI has had."
Hernando County Sheriff Rich Nugent said the change would cost his county at least $200,000 next year. "It puts us in a serious predicament," Nugent said. "When we have a budget crunch, we would have to stop sending our evidence off."
Some agencies would likely turn to independent labs, which could lack credibility and make it harder to prosecute cases, Moore and Nugent suggested.
Florida's lab examines more than 160,000 pieces of evidence a year and has a DNA data bank from nearly 180,000 offenders.