Eastern Oregon got some good news from Salem last week.
The state House of Representatives unanimously approved a budget for the Oregon State Police that will keep open the agency’s crime lab in Pendleton.
That lab, the only one of its kind in Eastern Oregon, was slated for closure in Gov. Kate Brown’s proposed budget for the two-year period starting July 1.
Closing the lab would have a minuscule effect on the state’s budget. But it would cause significant problems for law enforcement across the region.
Police and prosecutors here rely on the Pendleton lab to analyze evidence needed to convict criminals.
If the lab closed, officials in Baker County and other counties in Eastern Oregon would have to send evidence to the nearest lab, which is in Bend, 250 miles from Baker City. This would likely result in longer delays, and not simply because of the greater distance. A 2015 audit by the Secretary of State’s office showed that the backlog in testing evidence has increased by 90 percent since 2005. That has a disproportionate effect on cities and counties, since they comprise about 90 percent of the workload for the state crime labs.
Although the budget that spares the Pendleton lab is not final, its prospects seem good.
The state Senate will consider the bill now, and Sen. Bill Hansell, a Republican whose district includes Pendleton, told the East Oregonian newspaper that he expects the House bill will pass without changes.
We’re optimistic that Brown will recognize the importance of the Pendleton lab, and sign the budget bill.
From the Baker City Herald editorial board. The board consists of publisher Kari Borgen, editor Jayson Jacoby and reporter Chris Collins.