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As California lawmakers tackle their state’s $24 billion deficit, one little-known proposal on the table is a $20 million cut to the state crime lab.

That may not sound like much alongside the hundreds of millions in proposed slashes to the state’s education, prison and health care systems. But it’s half the lab’s budget and would likely halt or delay the testing of rape kits, DNA and other crucial crime scene evidence in many counties, law enforcement officials warn.

The $20 million cut was approved by the state’s budget committee last week and now goes to the entire legislature for approval. If it is passed, the lab would have to charge law enforcement agencies for tests it has always provided for free, even though many of those agencies are facing budget cuts of their own. Last year, the state lab tested evidence in about 50,000 cases, including more than 1,400 containing DNA.

Advocates for crime victims are urging lawmakers to reject the proposal, because they worry that delays in testing evidence will allow rapists, murderers and other violent criminals to remain on the streets.

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