DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado lawmakers called a special hearing after a CBS4 report revealed big problems with the state’s plan to do all law enforcement DUI testing for free.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation – which is doing the free testing – admits it doesn’t have the money or manpower to take on up to 8,000 more cases a year. Taxpayers could be on the hook for millions of dollars.
Additionally, prosecutors say guilty people could go free because of the backlog and a private company that was doing most of the testing is going under.
“Overnight the state took away everything I’ve worked for my entire career,” Sarah Urfer told the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.
The committee, she says, is partly to blame for a debacle that has put her out of business and could put public safety at risk. Urfer owns ChemaTox, which did 70% of law enforcement’s drug and alcohol testing until this month when the Colorado Bureau of Investigation – using $600,000 approved by the committee – began offering the tests for free.
“Our sample volumes have dropped by 90% because it turns out free is affordable. I can not compete with free,” Urfer testified.
CBI Director John Camper says they didn’t realize the impact of their decision, which was meant to help smaller departments, “Frankly, I’m embarrassed and I’m responsible.”
Urfer estimates the free testing will cost the state more than $5 million, far more than the $600,000 the budget committee approved.
“Right now, I’d be personally embarrassed to come to you with a request for a single dime but, that said, I also understand this is bigger than just us and doesn’t affect others,” Camper told the committee.
The Colorado District Attorneys’ Council says the backlog could jeopardize criminal cases. Representative Jonathan Singer says people’s constitutional right to free trial is at risk.
“We’ve got a huge issue on our hands,” he said.
Singer, who’s district includes ChemaTox and who first sounded the alarm, says the private company shouldn’t have to pay.
“As someone who works for the State of Colorado, works for the people of Colorado, we’re sorry that it got to this point and we need to make up for it now.”
The director of CBI and ChemaTox owner met after the hearing but weren’t able to reach a solution. CBI wants to keep the private lab open but ChemaTox is running out of money. Unless the Governor steps in and requests emergency funding, Urfer says ChemaTox will close in two weeks and CBI isn’t prepared to handle the extra volume.
“It’s not just me and my company. The ramifications of this change are broad and deep and will reverberate for years through our community,” Urfer said.