Government

Lawmakers want to reduce 250-day backlog in Iowa crime lab

Proposed increase in fines also would upgrade court technology

State Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, discusses Senate File 2394, a bill to raise funding for the Iowa crime lab and court system, during a House Ways and Means subcommittee meeting Wednesday at the Statehouse. The additional funds would be used to address a 250-day backlog in rape kit testing and also upgrade court technology and increase victims’ assistance funds. (James Q. Lynch/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
State Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, discusses Senate File 2394, a bill to raise funding for the Iowa crime lab and court system, during a House Ways and Means subcommittee meeting Wednesday at the Statehouse. The additional funds would be used to address a 250-day backlog in rape kit testing and also upgrade court technology and increase victims’ assistance funds. (James Q. Lynch/Gazette Des Moines Bureau)
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DES MOINES — Seeking to address a 250-day backlog in rape kit testing and the need to upgrade technology in the court system, Iowa lawmakers are considering increases in fines and court fees.

A House Ways and Means subcommittee advanced a bill that, according to a fiscal analysis, would increase funds for court technology by $8.4 million and the Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab by $2.1 million.

Senate File 2394, which was approved 45-4 in the Senate, will next go to the full House Ways and Means Committee.

Calling the 250-day backlog at the crime lab unacceptable, Rep. Ken Rizer, R-Marion, said Senate File 2394 would be a “long-term, sustainable way to fix this.”

With the additional funding, Department of Public Safety lobbyist Amber Markham said the “unreasonable” backlog should be reduced to 90 days by the end of the third year of funding.

The funds will be used for hiring and training four to six criminalists the first year. The funds will allow DPS to move funds internally from equipment purchases to hiring additional staff, she said.

Crime lad administrator Bruce Reeve said the lab has seen a 30 percent increase in evidence being submitted for testing over the past four years. That’s overwhelmed the lab’s supply budget, he said.

Lobbyists for the Iowa State Sheriffs’ & Deputies’ Association called reducing the backlog a top priority.

The backlog leaves sexual assault victims in limbo and allows men who commit those assaults, who Rizer said often are serial offenders, to remain at-large.

“We’ve got to get quick justice so we have resolution for victims and get these perps behind bars,” he said.

The bill also will increase technology funds for the court system from $1 million to $9.4 million.

“We need to get the courts’ cyber infrastructure into the 21st century,” Rizer said.

The Judicial Branch has been asking for additional funds in recent years, but a weeklong crash in October 2017 of the electronic filing system used by courts in all 99 counties drove home the need to upgrade technology and have a backup server, lawmakers said.

The changes in the bill also would put an additional $370,000 money in the victims’ compensation fund, according to an analysis by the Legislative Services Agency.

“It sounds like a lot of really good ideas,” said Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, who did not sign the bill in subcommittee because she hadn’t had enough time to study it.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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