Crime lab funding restored

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Reversing a decision made just a few weeks ago. Gov. Sonny Perdue has restored funding appropriated by the General Assembly to keep two Central and South Georgia Crime Labs open.

Perdue reportedly made the decision in a meeting with House Speaker David Ralston, advisors and staff members Wednesday.

On June 8, Perdue issued a directive to Georgia Bureau of Investigation Director Vernon Keenan saying that the funding legislators had appropriated for the labs in Moultrie and Columbus would be redirected to serve other purposes.

"Public safety's always been the top priority of mine. During a tough year, health, education and public safety were a priority of the Legislature. I'm appreciative of the decision the governor made," Rep. Ed Rynders, a Leesburg Republican who fought along with Rep. Jay Powell, of Camilla, and other legislators to find the funding for the labs during the session, said.

Rynders, whose district includes part of Colquitt County, said that lawmakers had allocated $400,000 to renovate and remodel the Moultrie lab.

News of the governor's actions to strip the funding drew the ire of lawmakers and law enforcers alike, especially that of Colquitt County Sheriff Al Whittington who had testified as to the need for the lab funding earlier in the year.

"It's ludicrous to me that the governor can make a decision like this on something the Legislature has allocated," Whittington told the Herald in a June 17 report. "We're already shorthanded on staff and resources to begin with and, to put it simply, it will just make the situation worse."

Even political candidates have jumped into the fray.

Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, who was in Albany Thursday, criticized the governor's actions and urged him to reconsider.

"If the state can't provide the basic services to prosecute criminals something's wrong with the priorities of the state, and that's all I have to say about that," Barnes said. "What disturbs me the most...those labs were put there to serve close to where the crime was committed so that the police and investigators could keep us safe and for the governor, particularly, to thumb his nose at the General Assembly I think is very shortsighted."

Gen. David Poythress, who is also running for governor as a Democrat, was the first candidate to speak out against the move, saying "public safety is the most important duty of government, and I know from personal experience it is almost impossible to prosecute any criminal case without modern crime lab support," Poythress said.

A military prosecutor during Vietnam, Poythress has pledged full support for public safety if elected.

House Speaker David Ralston has reportedly issued a memo about the decision to restore the funding, although attempts to get comment from his office were unsuccessful Thursday.