GBI director proposes outsourcing amid budget cuts

Facing budget cuts, the head of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation gives state lawmakers an option to stay on top of testing rape kits even with fewer scientists.

Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposed budget includes the elimination of nine forensic scientist positions in the State Crime Lab, something concerning to state Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) whose bill four years ago now requires testing of all rape kits be conducted in a timely manner.

“This is something that is incredibly important, and we’re just not going to accept going backwards into creating a new backlog—we’re just not,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.

GBI Dir. Vic Reynolds told members of a House subcommittee looking at the budget for public safety, the crime lab currently has a backlog of more than 750 kits—about three months’ worth. And he says the lab continues to get as many as 250 rape kits per month.

As a way to reduce the load, he proposes outsourcing all future DNA testing for non-violent crimes such as drug offenses to private labs.

“The ultimate goal would be where our lab at the GBI is doing the DNA on sexual assault kits (and) they’re doing it on murder cases,” says Reynolds.

He did not have immediate figures for lawmakers on how much outsourcing would cost the state. But he says just adding more personnel may not be the answer.

“For years we’ve asked for more bodies. For years we have backlog. So, if we’re doing the same thing year after year and we still have a backlog, maybe we ought to try something else,” says Reynolds.

But House members on the committee continued to pepper Reynolds with questions regarding more staff.

“In my mind it seems that you’re going to need more personnel to test them because you’re accumulating them faster than the scientists you have currently,” says Rep. Andy Welch (R- McDonough).

The House and Senate adjourned abruptly last week due to what may be an impasse over cuts in Kemp’s proposed midyear and next year’s budgets. Besides public safety, House Speaker David Ralston says cuts to local health departments and accountability courts are disconcerting to him and other members.

The Governor’s office sent out a statement last week saying lawmakers have had ample time to review the budget documents from state departments and should have spent more time looking at them rather than trying to pass a bill aimed at turning the special election to fill former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s seat into a partisan primary.

“Every day that passes is one less day for agencies to get necessary funding through the amended budget,” read the statement.

Following a week of budget hearings, lawmakers are scheduled to come back into session Feb. 18.

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