NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

PortWatch

December 4, 2012

GOP suggest $30M drug lab request may wait until 2013

BOSTON — It appears Gov. Deval Patrick may need to wait until next year for lawmakers to take up his request for $30 million to begin covering the costs associated with the handling of criminal cases impacted by breaches at the Hinton drug testing lab.

Republican lawmakers say the Legislature is unlikely over the next month to approve the request. While Patrick has attached some urgency to his request, any lawmaker meeting in informal sessions scheduled for the rest of 2012 can block the advancement of any bill.

Patrick formally met with Democratic leaders of the House and Senate last week for the first time in four months, seeking a commitment from both branches to bring the mid-year budget request forward for a vote “quickly.”

The governor left the meeting without any assurances that passage of his bill (H 4489) would be possible before the next Legislature is sworn in come January, when formal sessions and floor debates will resume.

“The governor met with the Democratic leadership. He’s never reached out to me in any substantive way to talk about this issue and I’m quite confident as presented the Republican caucus would have issues with it,” House Minority Leader Brad Jones said.

Patrick filed the budget request on Nov. 1 to begin paying for the fallout from the drug lab scandal involving a chemist who has admitted to tampering with evidence. Though the amount is only expected to cover a few months of expenses, the administration has said delays could strain agency budgets as they take on the added workload without scaling back normal operations.

The governor is asking for the funds to be put into a dedicated account to be managed by Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez and distributed as needed to various agencies.

Jones said he was hesitant to hand the administration a pool of money without spending controls, suggesting it might be appropriate for an independent authority to be placed in charge of dispersing the money. “We’re being asked to give this pool of money to A&F to basically oversee the cleanup of a mess they created,” Jones said.

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