, Salem, MA

December 6, 2012

Our view: Don't delay drug lab dollars

The Salem News

---- — It’s certainly understandable for Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr and some of his legislative colleagues to be dubious about the prospects of approving Gov. Deval Patrick’s $30 million request to cover recovery work on the state drug lab fiasco.

But it’s equally unfair to expect agencies such as the Essex County district attorney’s office — waist-deep in assessing the chaos brought on by almost 8,500 tainted samples in its jurisdiction alone — to handle the costs of its overtime and other work related to this crisis. And make no mistake, it is a crisis, with the potential of sending arrested and convicted drug dealers, in some cases, back onto the streets. As such, the spending request needs to be considered apart from the state’s current budget woes.

Patrick filed the budget request on Nov. 1 to begin paying for the fallout from the drug lab scandal involving accused chemist Annie Dookhan and the Jamaica Plain state drug lab. The governor is asking for the money to be put into a dedicated account to be managed by Administration and Finance Secretary Jay Gonzalez and distributed as needed to various agencies. And that frankly seems as good an approach as any.

Yet lawmakers are balking, with Tarr — usually tough and aggressive on crime legislative issues — suggesting that the “governor has a lot of work to do if he wants to get this passed in an informal session.”

Tarr and all of our lawmakers need to recognize that this funding is not about who approaches whom, who cuts a deal with whom or even who manages the money. It’s about safety — and shoring up criminal loopholes through which defense lawyers across the North Shore can drive not only trucks, but planes, trains and automobiles to boot. It needs to be plugged, and it needs to be plugged now.

Let’s hope all of our lawmakers recognize that, before any more dealers are wrongly set free.