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Kaul makes case for improved crime lab tech, more analysts

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul worked Wednesday to persuade Republican lawmakers to let him spend nearly $925,000 to upgrade crime lab technology designed to detect synthetic drugs and add analysts.

Gov. Tony Evers’ budget authorizes Kaul to spend $923,000 from court surcharges over the biennium for upgrading drug identification technology and hire four more toxicologists to run the machinery.

The Legislature’s Republican-controlled finance committee is expected to spend the next several months revising the budget. Kaul has had a rocky relationship with the committee’s GOP members after Republicans passed lame-duck laws in 2018 requiring him to get the committee’s permission to settle lawsuits, and it’s unclear whether the $923,000 authorization will survive their tweaks. A spokeswoman for Sen. Howard Marklein, a committee co-chairman, said he had no comment. A spokeswoman for the other co-chairman, Rep. Mark Born, didn’t immediately respond to an email.

Kaul told reporters during a video conference that the lab’s eight current toxicologists are overwhelmed with the number of cases involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, and fentanyl analogues, compounds similar to fentanyl. The number of fentanyl cases across the state has increased from 10 in 2008 to 546 last year, according to state Department of Justice data.

Kaul, a Democrat, said he didn’t have any statistics immediately available illustrating the rise in such cases, but insisted the new technology would speed up drug identification tests. That would help prosecutors understand what drugs they’re dealing with in a case and help them make charging decisions faster, in turn getting people into treatment through drug courts faster, he said.

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