Crime bill introduced identical to failed proposition
A March ballot initiative to better state forensic laboratories failed despite furious support from California law enforcement officials.
Proposition 15 would have allowed the state to sell $220 million in bonds in order to build new local crime labs and pay for improvements to the 19 existing labs. It would also have helped renovate labs run by the Department of Justice.
The initiative was not popular with voters but the issue is – especially with Republicans in the California State Senate.
Last month Dick Mountjoy, R-Arcadia, introduced a bill identical to Proposition 15, except that construction and renovation projects would be paid for by the state.
“We need to move quickly to assure law enforcement has the laboratory tools necessary to solve crimes and protect the public,” Mountjoy said. “It is appalling that some tests may take years to complete. We need accurate information on whether an individual did or did not commit a crime.”
The Senate Public Safety Committee unanimously approved SB 1485 Tuesday. It will now be considered by the Appropriations Committee, which will decide how much money the bill needs.
Mountjoy is on the Appropriations Committee and has asked for the same $220 million dollars called for by the initiative.
“Rural counties that have had a hard time acquiring expensive crime fighting technology will benefit greatly from this bill,” said Sen. Tim Leslie, R-Roseville, who is also on the committee and is one of the bill’s sponsors.
Only six counties approved Proposition 15, all of them in large cities.
In El Dorado County 65 percent of the voters were against the initiative, but Sheriff Hal Barker said crime lab improvements are vital.
“We need to do something,” he said. “(The bill) makes a lot of sense because we do need crime labs.”
Mountjoy said nearly two-thirds of the state’s crime labs are outdated, and that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s crime lab alone receives more than 2,000 DNA identification requests each year.
“This will fix up a number of the the sheriffs’ crime labs throughout the state, (which) are all dilapidated and all need work,” Barker said of Proposition 15 prior to the initiative’s defeat. “Look at all that stuff with O. J. Simpson. You know that lab needs work.”
El Dorado County would not directly benefit from the legislation but improvements will help local law enforcement agencies, according to Sgt. Tom Conner of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department.
“Almost every agency sends its things to the Department of Justice and you can imagine how backed up they can get,” he said.
Police are still searching for a 60-year-old woman who disappeared in the summer of 1997 and the effort to find her has been slowed to a crawl by an overworked forensic lab, according to Conner. It took the Department of Justice more than a year to analyze DNA evidence found in the hotel where she was living, and Mountjoy said such stories are becoming more common.
Opponents of the original initiative called it part of an “orgy of spending” by the state and Mountjoy is not sure Democrats, who control the legislature, will support his bill.
Barker hopes they will.
“The state does have a lot of money at this point,” he said. “And if the people are unwilling to bond themselves, the state should look at building the forensic labs.”
Law enforcement officials have joined Barker in support of the bill.
“Criminals and crimes are growing more complex every day,” Leslie said. “State-of-the-art crime labs keep the good guys ahead of the game.”
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