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Senate GOP Calls for Drug Lab Oversight Board

The proposed five-member board would have oversight authority over all state facilities engaged in forensic services in criminal investigation.

 

In the wake of the Jamaica Plain Drug Lab crisis, the Massachusetts Senate Republican Caucus wants “tighter controls and higher standards” at its state drug labs.

The caucus proposed that a five-member board be established to “have oversight authority over all state facilities engaged in forensic services in criminal investigations,” according to a statement released Wednesday.

The board will consist of the secretary of public safety and security, the attorney general, the inspector general and the colonel of state police, or their designees, along with one appointee from the governor, according to the statement.

“We need to create a new infrastructure of oversight, accountability, transparency and integrity, and this legislation will accomplish these goals,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) said in the statement.

Tarr will file legislation this week with Assistant Minority Leader Robert Hedlund (R-Weymouth), Minority Whip Richard Ross (R-Wenham) and Senator Michael Knapik (R-Westfield), the Ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Former Hinton Drug Lab chemist Annie Dookhan pleaded not guilty to 27 total charges in Suffolk, Middlesex and Norfolk courts this month for her role in the crisis. Dookhan is accused of tampering with drug evidence in thousands of Massachusetts criminal cases, which has resulted in several people convicted on drug charges to be freed while they await new court dates.

In November, a joint audit committee found there was lack of oversight and accreditation at the lab, which allowed for the situation to arise.

Below are the terms of the caucus’ proposal (from the statement):

Each forensic services facility be fully and actively accredited with the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board and compliant with standards promulgated by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).  

The bill requires: 

  • Quarterly reports from the undersecretary of public safety for forensic sciences that will include, but not be limited to, information regarding:

-          The volume of forensic services at each facility;

-          The volume of forensic services of each employee at such facilities;

-          The costs and length of time from submission for testing or procedures and the return of results from such facilities;

-          Compliance with accreditation standards of such facilities; and

-          Facility employee records, qualifications, and incident reports.

  • A minimum of one public oversight hearing per year for the board to receive testimony relative to the operations of state laboratories; 
  • A system to receive complaints or tips about potential problems at a state laboratory via telephone and e-mail; 
  • Certification that all state laboratories are accredited in accordance with the other requirements of the bill; and 
  • The timely reporting of suspected or potential criminal wrongdoing to the Attorney General for investigation and prosecution.

For complete coverage of the JP Drug Lab Crisis, head to our topic page.

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