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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Scott's crime lab budget does not include funding for 10,000 backlogged rape kits



Florida Gov. Rick Scott touted in press releases last week that he was going to ask the Legislature for $8.5 million to improve the state crime lab’s turnaround times in processing incoming crime evidence. But his proposed budget released Monday does not include any funding to directly address a backlog of older rape kits in evidence rooms around the state that will likely cost the state at least another $9 million to handle.

In his proposed 2016-2017 spending plan released Monday, Scott proposed $3.8 million for a variety of enhancements to the current forensic services budget for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, funding FDLE officials said was critical to keeping up with incoming requests for biology testing, including rape kits.  Scott also proposed another $4 million to give pay raises to the agencies 297 crime lab employees to help retain current workers.

But the budget plan does not address any funding expected to be identified in a state report due out next month that will show the state has more than 10,000 untested rape kits in evidence rooms around the state. State officials, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, have been pushing to test those older DNA samples in hopes they can identify criminals in other cases or help uncover serial rapists.

Older kits languish in evidence rooms in Florida for a variety of reasons. Sometimes victims no longer want an investigation to continue, a case is not being pursued by prosecutors or a suspect has already pled guilty so the kit was never tested. A big factor is simply improvements in technology. Many of the older kits have been sitting on shelves for up to 25 years, when DNA testing was not as common place or reliable as it is today.

But testing the older kits would be costly. While FDLE’s report isn’t due until next month, agency officials have said it costs them $904 to outsource each rape kit. At that price, the state would be looking at more than $9 million in additional expenses if they are told to test all of those extra kits had to be outsourced. FDLE officials say they do not have the staff currently to handle another 10,000 laboratory requests that would be needed to process the older kits. Scott's budget plan would help FDLE handle new evidence submissions and cover some unanticipated older kits if they start coming in, but would not be sufficient to handle most of those 10,000 kits. 

When FDLE submitted it's annual budget request to the governor earlier this fall, it did not include any funding for the older, untested rape kits. But in early November, FDLE officials for the first time confirmed their December report will show the state has more than 10,000 such kits.

“The Governor is proud to fully fund FDLE’s request for crime lab support and invest millions in additional resources to help reduce the backlog of these kits across the state,” Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz, said about FDLE's original request that did not include funding for the untested kits.

Though Scott is not proposing funding to deal directly with the backlogged kits, the Florida Legislature has already begun making noise that they want the backlogged addressed. State Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, told FDLE officials that addressing the backlog has to be a priority that jumps ahead of many of their other tasks. He even suggested paying for more staff if that would help handle the backlog.

"I'm committed to making sure every kit needed to be tested is done so in a prompt manner," Negron said earlier this month.

While Scott is required to submit a proposed budget, it is up to the Florida Legislature to build the budget, though Scott has the power to veto items he objects to. 

[Last modified: Monday, November 23, 2015 7:23pm]


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