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State not yet worried about paying for DNA test requests

One day soon, the state's crime labs will begin getting several hundred requests for DNA tests from prisoners who say they're innocent _ and that the test will prove it.

No one, however, seems to know how the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, charged by state law with performing the DNA tests, will pay for all of them. And no one seems particularly worked up about it.

"Right now, we're okay," said Sue Livingston, FDLE's director of forensic science. "But we may have to go to the Legislature and talk with them. Our workload is not something we have any control over anyway."

State lawmakers passed a law in 2001 allowing non-death row prisoners claiming innocence to ask for DNA tests on the state's tab, but they didn't set aside any special money for them.

That likely will be yet another puzzle for legislators next session when they figure out how to take over paying for the courts beginning in July. Voters in 1998 passed a constitutional revision shifting the burden of courts funding from the counties to the state.

The law also marked an Oct. 1 deadline for requests, but the Supreme Court set that aside until it hears arguments next week for a one-year extension.

Death row inmates are assigned special lawyers after their sentencing, so those prisoners already met the deadline. Many of the cases in question now are sexual-battery and life-imprisonment murder cases. Lawyers now are sifting though 600 cases that may result in DNA testing requests.

Livingston said she doesn't know exactly how much a single DNA test costs, though she once worked it out to $800 a case, "though it's probably less than that now." And there is no line item for DNA testing in FDLE's statewide lab budget of $26-million, which includes the fingerprint and ballistics labs, she added.