Monday, May 8, 2017

DOJ and DNA on the Joint Finance docket for tomorrow

You might recall a story that broke about 3 months ago where the State of Wisconsin Department of Justice, under the "leadership" of Attorney General Brad Schimel, had a backlog of nearly 6,000 kits rape kits, which had DNA and other forensic evidence from sexual assault cases. This was despite having grant money from the US DOJ on hand to take care of such evidence, which could be used to link to evidence in other cases.

This may come up again, as the Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to discuss the budget for the Wisconsin DOJ and a few other minor departments at its meeting tomorrow. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau describes where the money comes from for DNA testing at Wisconsin’s three state crime labs, and how Governor Walker’s 2017-19 budget plans to set aside more money to pay for these tests.
The Department of Justice's (DOJ) crime laboratories and DNA analysis continuing PR appropriation receives revenue from the crime laboratory and drug law enforcement (CLDLE) surcharge and the DNA surcharge. This appropriation is utilized support the costs of providing DNA analysis at the state crime laboratories and to reimburse law enforcement agencies for certain costs associated with collecting biological samples and mailing those samples to the state's crime laboratories. The appropriation also acts as the CLDLE and DNA surcharge fund. As the CLDLE and DNA surcharge fund, the appropriation is utilized to transfer monies to other appropriations in DOJ and the District Attorney function to support drug law enforcement, the state crime laboratories, criminal investigations, and a statewide DNA evidence prosecutor position. Base funding and position authority for the appropriation is $4,321,200 PR and 30.0 PR positions….

1.The bill would provide DOJ with $1,000,000 PR annually to support an increase in costs for DNA analysis kits utilized by the state crime laboratories in performing scientific analyses (the kits are not utilized in the collection of evidence by law enforcement). Program revenue for these costs would be supported by CLDLE and DNA surcharge fund. As identified in a separate paper on this fund, under the bill, the fund is projected to conclude the 2017-19 biennium with a balance of $2,322,100. Therefore, the fund has a sufficient balance to support additional funding for DNA analysis kits, as recommended by the Governor. However, it should also be noted that, under the bill, the fund is estimated to operate in a structural deficit during the 2017-19 biennium. In 2017-18, total obligations ($16,235,700) are estimated to exceed annual revenue ($15,000,000) by $1,235,700, and in 2018-19, total obligations ($16,603,000) are estimated to exceed annual revenue ($15,000,000) by $1,603,000.
In other words, there’s enough money left over in this account to increase the testing for the next two years, but there won’t be after 2019 unless there’s another revenue source tapped. That could be done either through raising the DNA/drug surcharges, or through regular taxpayer dollars.

Another factor in this request is that the DOJ needs more money to deal with additional testing that the FBI now requires of DNA evidence. In addition, more Wisconsinites have had to give DNA samples, due to increased crime arrests and convictions, and changes in state law, so that has increased the workload at the crime labs.
10. The Department indicates that it has also needed to purchase a greater number of kits in recent months as compared to previous years in order to keep up with an increase in DNA analysis workload in the past year. In previous years, DOJ purchased, on average, 150 kits per year, in order to test 30,000 samples (as noted above, each kit contains supplies for 200 tests). In contrast, the state crime labs are currently utilizing, on average, 15 kits per month across all of the state crime laboratories, for an estimated annual need of 180 kits (an increase of 20% in the number of kits). These 180 kits could support 36,000 tests.

11. The number of DNA samples the state crime labs have processed increased from 15,783 samples in 2015 to 17,366 samples in 2016 (an increase of 10% from 2015 to 2016). Further, DOJ estimates that it will process over 19,000 samples in 2017 (an increase of at least 9.4% from 2016 to 2017, or at least 20.4% from 2015 to 2017). In comparing the number of samples processed by the State Crime Labs to the number of tests that the DNA kits DOJ is purchasing could support, note that DOJ must utilize the supplies in the DNA analysis kits to run quality control tests as well as to test forensic samples. In addition, the DNA kits must be utilized for training purposes, equipment validation, and proficiency tests taken by analysts each year. The Department attributes the increase in the number of DNA samples that it has had to process, in part, to an increase in the number of sexual assault kits that have been submitted to the state crime labs for analysis. Notably, sexual assault kits can contain, on average, 10 items of evidence for analysis from which samples must be extracted and analyzed.

12. In summary, the Department indicates that its costs associated with DNA analysis kits have increased due to a $2,100 per kit cost increase resulting from the new FBI requirement, and an increase in the number of kits the Department needs to purchase from approximately 150 kits annually to 180 kits annually. The costs associated with the need to purchase 30 additional kits per year at a rate of $10,900 per kit totals $327,000. In addition, since the new FBI requirement increased the cost of a DNA analysis kit by $2,100, the annual estimated increase in cost for 180 kits increases by $378,000. In total, DOJ's estimated costs are anticipated to increase by $705,000.
So let's see if the JFC approves of this extra money to do more testing, and to see if we get an update on where the rape kit backlog stands as of today. There are also a few side issues regarding what to do with DOJ grant money (including $9 million from a settlement with Volkswagen that's currently earmarked for IT modernization and drug enforcement measures), but it seems that the DNA testing is something to keep an eye on for tomorrow, and going forward.

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