Archive for Friday, February 17, 2006

House endorses DNA testing bill

February 17, 2006


— Legislation requiring everyone arrested or charged with a felony to submit DNA samples to investigators was endorsed Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee and sent to the chamber for debate.

The committee also began reworking a bill to toughen penalties for sex offenders, but members decided to wait until Monday to finish their work on it.

Chairman Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, said the committee would "do some fine-tuning" but would retain the harsher penalties, such as life without parole for those convicted a second time of molesting a child.

Backers of the DNA bill say it would help get sexual predators and violent criminals off the street, plus help close unsolved crimes.

"This is a major step in protecting Kansas citizens," said sponsoring Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood.

Under the bill, a person in custody must submit a DNA sample when he or she is booked and fingerprinted. The sample would be entered into the Kansas Bureau of Investigation database, which has some 60,000 identified DNA samples on file.

Some committee members wanted to make it felony to refuse to submit a sample of skin cells taken from inside the mouth by a swab. But others, including Rep. Tim Owens, thought that was too harsh and refused to support the bill with that included, so it was rewritten to make it a misdemeanor.

"It's not to protect the guilty. It's to protect the innocent," said Owens, R-Overland Park. "It about personal freedom and that's what we're stepping on."

During the law's first year, it would apply to adults arrested and juveniles taken into custody for violent felonies such as rape or murder. After the first year, samples would be taken in all felony cases.

If the felony arrest is dismissed or the person is acquitted, the DNA sample would be removed from the KBI system. But if a sample links a person to another crime, the subsequent charges could stand even if the original charges were dismissed and the sample destroyed.

Virginia, Louisiana, California, Florida and Texas already have laws requiring the taking of DNA samples along with fingerprints when a person is arrested.

The sex offender bill is similar to one the Senate passed last month, but in some areas the penalties are harsher. For instance, the House bill calls for life without parole for a person convicted a second time for a violent sex crime; the Senate bill mandates 40 years to life.

O'Neal said the committee might add language making clear that it's a crime for someone to entice a child on the Internet if they believe the person is a child. Often, law enforcement officials go into Internet chat rooms posing as youngsters to lure sex offenders into the open.

The committee also delayed until next week a decision about what to do with a bill making it illegal for registered sex offenders to live within 1,500 feet of a school.


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