Updated March 2, 2023 at 11:00 AM CST
Attorney General Josh Kaul is leading lawmakers on a tour of state crime labs amid a push for additional funding for Wisconsin's Department of Justice in the state's next budget.
Kaul, a Democrat who won reelection this November, is asking for 16 additional positions next budget cycle at state-run crime labs across Wisconsin. That includes 10 DNA analysts, four toxicologists and two crime scene response specialists.
The DOJ's crime labs do forensic work — including testing for illegal substances — for police agencies across the state. Ozaukee County Sheriff Christy Knowles said Wisconsin needs to hire more analysts, so local agencies can get results more quickly.
"Right now, we have cases in Ozaukee County that have been sitting over 12 months because of toxicology," Knowles said following a tour a Milwaukee crime lab Wednesday afternoon. "These people who are violating are being put back on the streets without being held accountable."
As of Tuesday, two of 13 toxicologist, eight of 62 DNA analyst and one of six crime scene response specialist positions within the department were vacant, according to information provided by a DOJ spokesperson.
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"Keeping our labs as fully staffed as we can is something that we continually work on," Kaul said Wednesday. "But having additional position so that we've got, for example, more toxicologists or more DNA analysts who can support the work and add to the work that's being done now will also help us ensure that we continue to have the capacity that we need to get results to law enforcement and prosecutors and courts as quickly as they need them."
In all, Kaul has asked for nearly $245 million for the DOJ in fiscal year 2024, a more than 54 percent increase over the current fiscal year. That compares to $198 million requested for the agency next fiscal year by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, which would be a 25 percent spending boost.
Kaul said Wednesday he's optimistic the GOP-controlled Legislature will fund at least part of one of those proposals.
"We're certainly happy with any support at whatever level for the labs," Kaul said. "It's our hope that given the historic surplus that we have in the state right now that this is a time when we will see that the Legislature take this opportunity to make a significant investment in the crime lab. These opportunities don't come around every budget cycle."
Last month, the Legislature's nonpartisan budget office predicted the state would close out the fiscal year with a record-breaking budget surplus topping $7 billion.