DPS video screen shot

A technician at the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Lab in Austin.

DPS video screen shot

Law enforcement agencies in Bell County will not have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars thanks to the Texas Department of Public Safety announcing Friday it will reverse its plan to begin charging for forensic analysis.

“DPS will continue to provide high quality expert analytical services to our law enforcement partners at no cost to these agencies,” the department said in a news release.

On July 20, DPS caused a furor among law enforcement agencies across the state when it announced its intentions to begin charging for using its lab.

The backtrack comes after Gov. Greg Abbott asked the department to not go forward with its plans.

“Under no circumstances will I allow the 13 crime labs that DPS operates across the state to be underfunded,” Abbott wrote in a letter to DPS Director Steven McCraw on Friday. “However, I firmly believe it is premature to charge a fee at this time.”

If DPS had stuck to its initial plans, the city of Temple would have needed to find between $125,000 and $150,000 to pay for its lab fees, Temple spokeswoman Shannon Gowan said.

Temple’s estimated lab fee costs dwarfs Belton’s and Bell County’s estimated numbers.

Bell County Judge Jon Burrows estimated DPS’s lab fees would have cost the county $80,000.

Belton’s initial estimate was $26,000, spokesman Paul Romer said.

“That weather balloon went flat in a hurry,” Romer said, after being alerted of the DPS decision.

In the state’s 2018-19 budget, lawmakers stripped $12 million from the DPS annual budget to run state crime labs, according to the Texas Tribune.

“While Bell County is sympathetic to what the Legislature has done to the DPS budget, we do not think it is fair for the Legislature to indirectly cause another unfunded mandate to come to the counties,” Burrows said Thursday.

To address unfunded mandates, state Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, and Sen. Dawn Buckingham, R-Lakeway, introduced legislation requiring the state to fully fund its expenditures.

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