DNA testing for salamanders or DNA testing for sexual assault victims? That was the controversial topic during an Austin City Council session this week. Council really didn't have to make a choice between the two, but when DNA testing for salamanders came up in the meeting Thursday, Council Member Don Zimmerman was very quick to show he didn't like it. "I am really struggling to understand how we can consider DNA of the salamander a higher priority than the DNA of the rape kit testing we need to do. Is there anybody that can enlighten me as to why the salamander is more important than the DNA rape kits?
Zimmerman said it’s about priorities and he doesn't think DNA research on salamanders should be one of them.
The money, Mayor Steve Adler said is coming from a dedicated Drainage Utility Fund paid for by the community in their utility bills and can only be used for certain things. “The DNA with the salamanders is something we have to do in this community. It's a different kind of priority. It's substantially less investment.” An investment, Mayor Adler said is worth the $13,000 price tag. “It's important to make sure that we are not protecting as an endangered species something that is not an endangered species and it's important to know if we have an endangered species what it is,” he said.
The Drainage Utility Fund money wouldn't even be optional for the Austin Police Department’s DNA testing lab, but Council Member Zimmerman said it could be put to better use. “We're struggling to find money; this is a great place to find money. I am going to enthusiastically vote against this because I think the DNA for the rape victims is far more important than the DNA for the salamander. That money could go back to our overtaxed tax payers, so we could use the money more appropriately for public safety a justice issue,” he said.
The funding for the DNA salamander research testing did pass the council 9 to 1 with Zimmerman opposing. As far as APD’s DNA sexual assault kit testing, there are two amendments suggested for next year's budget which Austin City Council will start working on September 12th.