Thursday, February 21, 2013

My View: How Could One Individual Have Such A Detrimental Effect On Public Safety?

Today, we present the second installment in our series dedicated to the eight public hearings for the Commonwealth’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget. This edition of My View comes to us from Representative David Vieira.

Yesterday’s second Fiscal Year 2014 Ways and Means hearing featured public safety agencies and the judiciary. I recently participated in the joint oversight hearings regarding the Hinton crime lab as a member of the Joint Committee on Public Safety & Homeland Security, so I had a hunch the issue of the impacts of Annie Dookhan’s alleged activity would come up.

What I didn’t realize was the extent to which the crime lab crisis would jeopardize the integrity of our criminal justice system and hence public safety. Government budgeting is an exercise in setting priorities. Public safety is THE core government function and the essential priority of a free and vibrant society.

So essential is this government function that it is emphasized in the Constitution of the Commonwealth which begins with these words, “The end of the institution, maintenance, and administration of government, is to secure the existence of the body politic, to protect it, and to furnish the individuals who compose it with the power of enjoying in safety and tranquility their natural rights, and the blessings of life…”

Representative Vinny deMacedo, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Ways and Means, expressed our sentiments best when he said, “I’m amazed at the impact that one individual can have on our entire judicial system.”

The Executive Office of Public Safety and Security began by requesting additional funding to hire 38 new chemists to clear backlogs in the state crime lab system. The sheriffs of the Commonwealth spoke about increased transportation costs related to the scandal and the district attorneys talked about the case by case reviews being done and the stress on their existing staff. The Chief Justices of the Courts of the Commonwealth shared their needs and how they are doing much more with much less (both staff and dollars) than in years past, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services shared their immediate and long term needs to address the civil liberty issues of those convicted with evidence processed through the Hinton lab.

At a time when median incomes have dropped in the Commonwealth, how can we ask taxpayers to pay more? Surely the requests we received from the public safety and judiciary officials yesterday are much needed and not frivolous requests. As we move forward we must focus on setting priorities of government, funding those priorities and working as diligently as possible to cut waste, fraud and abuse in other areas of the budget.

The outstanding question, beyond the prioritization of the budget will remain, “How could one individual have such a detrimental effect on public safety?,” or was it just that one individual? Time will tell.