DENVER - Pueblo's sub-standard forensic lab run by the Bureau of Investigation would get a new $11 million facility under a bill proposed Thursday by Rep. Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo.
House Bill 1170 received broad support in the House Finance Committee with a bipartisan vote of 10-2. And Gov. John Hickenlooper included funding for the project in his budget recommendations for 2014. Two strong indications the bill has the support to become law.
Garcia said the existing facility in Pueblo is substandard. The former retail space leased by the Colorado Bureau of Investigationhandles the forensic evidence and crime scene investigation for 124 southern Colorado law enforcement agencies.
"The poor condition of this facility guarantees that the CBI will not receive accreditation in 2015," Garcia said. "Without accreditation it will be forced to close."
Garcia said that the only other two crime labs in the state are in Denver and Grand Junction, which means it would take anywhere from two to five hours for help to arrive at crime scenes.
"By the time we would respond there would be a great deal of risk in terms of the loss of evidence," CBI Director Ron Sloan said.
Sloan said CBI has already identified a 13,200-square-foot building that the agency would remodel into a forensic lab and office space. He said an additional 3,000 square feet would be added to make room for analysis of sexual assault DNA evidence.
Sloan said legislation passed last session that requires the state to clear a backlog of sexual assault forensic evidence that has never been tested will put increased demands on the forensic labs and additional space is needed.
HB1170 calls for the building to be financed using lease-purchase certificate of participation financing.
That type of commonly used financing allows the state to fund the purchase and remodel of the building without taking out general obligation debt. The bill authorizes the sale of certificates of participation and the revenue from that sale is then used to buy and remodel the building. Then the Department of Public Safety will make lease payments to repay the certificates of purchase over the course of 20 years, with interest. All told the cost will be about $18.2 million if the interest rate is 5 percent, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill.
Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, said she voted against the bill because she couldn't support certificates of participation, which she called a work-around for state laws that require voter approval of certain kinds of indebtedness.
Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, responded that certificates of participation weren't a violation of the tax-payer bill of rights, and she was certain legislative legal staff could help Saine understand the issue.
The bill is now headed to the Committee on Appropriations for consideration before it is heard on the House floor.
Contact Megan Schrader