The fiscal 2018-19 state budget appropriated a total of $76.1 million to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) for crime lab services, but about 15 percent of that was slated to come from a new fee that will not be collected during the biennium. DPS had planned to start charging local law enforcement agencies a fee in fiscal 2019 to analyze certain crime scene evidence but withdrew its efforts after a letter from the governor asked the agency to refrain from assessing the fee. DPS has continued operations at its crime labs amid discussions about using a supplemental appropriation by the 86th Legislature in 2019 to make up all or a part of the $11.5 million that the fee was targeted to raise.
DPS operates 15 crime labs that provide services to local law enforcement entities. Any Texas law enforcement agency may send evidence from a criminal case to one of the labs. About 80 percent of DPS forensic work is for local law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Other crime labs are operated by city police departments, counties, medical examiner’s offices, other governmental entities, and private companies. Analyzing evidence in a criminal case can include DNA testing, analyzing fingerprints, testing for the presence of alcohol or illegal drugs, testing firearms, and analyzing evidence such as shoe prints and fibers. DPS does not charge law enforcement entities for forensic work, although it has the authority to do so in Code of Criminal Procedure, sec. 38.35(c).
The 2018-19 budget included a rider directing DPS to use its statutory authority to collect $11.5 million in fees for forensic analysis. DPS was required to notify law enforcement agencies about the fee and to report to the Legislative Budget Board on the collection and use of the fee. Fees collected in excess of $11.5 million also were appropriated to DPS for crime lab operations, and DPS was prohibited from transferring crime lab funds to other purposes.
In July 2017, DPS notified law enforcement agencies that it planned to begin charging the fee in September 2018. DPS released a fee schedule for toxicology, DNA, controlled substances, and biological specimens analysis. Fees would have ranged from $75 per biological specimen for alcohol analysis in a DWI case to $550 per case for DNA analysis, with the number of samples per DNA case determined by DPS. The agency intended to give each criminal justice agency a voucher to cover the cost of some forensic analysis services.
Numerous local law enforcement agencies protested the fee, some saying they did not have enough time to plan and budget for it. Gov. Greg Abbott asked DPS to halt its efforts, saying the budget rider did not mandate the fee collection. The governor acknowledged that without the fee DPS would have nearly $12 million less for its crime labs in fiscal 2018-19 than in the previous biennium. He said that the $63 million available to the agency to operate crime labs should ensure that the labs operate at full capacity into fiscal 2018-19. In late July 2018, DPS announced that legislative leadership agreed with the governor and that the agency would not implement the fee.
Fiscal 2020-21 request. DPS has requested about $58.8 million in general revenue and general revenue dedicated funds and $71.6 million in all funds for crime lab services for fiscal 2020-21. In addition, the agency is requesting $49.8 million in exceptional item funding for crime lab operations and deletion of the rider directing the collection of fees for forensic analysis. The exceptional item funding would restore a $5.8 million cut to crime lab funding in the fiscal 2018-19 budget, which was to be replaced with the fee that was not assessed. The exceptional item funding also would help pay to test a backlog of forensic evidence collected from crime scenes, respond to an increasing number of requests for analysis, and improve turnaround times in analyzing evidence. The request for fiscal 2020-21 would fund additional lab and support personnel and be used to increase some salaries in an effort to reduce turnover of trained forensic scientists.
by Kellie A. Dworaczyk
NOTE: The fiscal 2018-19 budget also directed $4.2 million of the general revenue appropriation to DPS for crime labs be used to test backlogged sexual assault kits from investigations that occurred after Aug. 1, 2011. For more information on this topic, see Laws let Texans donate to fund testing of sexual assault kits.