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Archive for Thursday, February 23, 2006

Crime-targeting bills advance in House, Senate

Measure would require DNA sample for all suspects arrested or charged with felonies

February 23, 2006

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— Everyone arrested or charged with a felony must submit DNA samples to investigators under a bill gaining first-round approval in the House.

The voice vote Wednesday puts the bill in position for final action needed to send it to the Senate. House leaders say they see little problem and Senate leaders forecast smooth sailing in that chamber.

Earlier in the day, the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed one bill to make sure law enforcement has up-to-date information about the appearance of registered sex offenders, and another to crack down on gang violence.

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

"DNA is the single most important tool to fight crime that has been developed in the last 50 years," said sponsoring Rep. Pat Colloton, R-Leawood.

Under the bill, people in custody must submit a DNA sample, which would be done by wiping a cotton swab inside the mouth when they are booked and fingerprinted.

Experts say technology has advanced to where a DNA profile can be built with as few as 20 tissue cells. The sample would be entered into the Kansas Bureau of Investigation database, which has some 60,000 identified DNA samples on file.

Colloton said the DNA sample could be compared with samples taken in unsolved cases.

"It's hard to commit a violent crime without leaving DNA at the crime scene," she said. "It's going to have a huge effect on identifying repeat offenders."

The sample would be removed from the KBI system if the charges are dropped or the person acquitted. 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.

If the bill becomes law, it wouldn't take effect until January 2007 to give the KBI time to get the laboratory equipment needed for the swab samples. Most DNA testing by the KBI is done from blood samples.

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.

Virginia, Louisiana, California, Florida and Texas already have laws requiring the taking of DNA samples along with fingerprints at the time of arrest.

Driver's license renewals

Meanwhile, the Senate committee approved a bill requiring the some 4,000 registered sex offenders in the state to have their driver's license renewed annually rather than the normal time of every six years. It also requires the licenses to have a distinguishing number so law enforcement officers will know who they're dealing with.

Supporters say a chief advantage of annual licenses is providing law enforcement with an updated photograph of the registered offender each year.

A section making it illegal for a registered offender to live within 2,000 feet of a school or child care facility was deleted. The committee was told while buffer zones sound good, they really don't work.

"If we thought residential restriction would protect kids, we'd be for it, too," said Secretary of Corrections Roger Werholtz.

Werholtz said buffer zones make it hard for registered offenders to find a place to live and comply with their release requirements such as finding work. He said such buffer zones would put 90 percent of Topeka off-limits.

"They give up on trying to comply and they go underground," he said. "They start a downward spiral and that makes them more dangerous."

He said studies in Florida, Colorado and Minnesota concluded buffer zones may make things worse, and the Iowa Legislature has been asked by prosecutors to repeal its buffer zone law.

Gangs crackdown

The committee also endorsed a bill cracking down on criminal street gangs, including adding to the statutes a definition of such groups.

While street gangs are found mainly in urban areas, more and more gangs are found in smaller towns across the state.

Among other things, the bill also creates two felony crimes - recruiting members for a street gang and street gang intimidation.

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