Rape survivor says Kentuckians deserve full Senate vote on bill allowing DNA collection at felony arrest

03/23/2016 09:05 PM

FRANKFORT — Two weeks ago legislation allowing DNA collection upon felony arrest cleared a Senate panel, but since that time the legislation has not been called for a vote before the full Senate.

Michelle Kuiper a rape survivor and advocate for the bill, told Pure Politics on Wednesday that she has been pleading for the legislation to be called on the floor of the Senate for a vote, but the Senate has, so far, taken no action.

“I don’t know why the bill is sitting and why the bill is not being put on the floor for a vote in the Senate,” Kuiper said.

“I feel like Kentuckians deserve a vote on the floor of the Senate.”

Senate Judiciary Chairman Whitney Westerfield, who filed similar legislation in 2013, said he was not sure why the legislation was being held back in the chamber and he feared that any more delays could mean the end for the bill in this legislative session.

“I think if it’s not taken up in the next day or two it’s probably dead for the year because of time,” he said in a phone interview with Pure Politics. “If it’s not heard tomorrow, it may be dead.”

“I’m disappointed. I’ve been working on this in one way or another trying to educate and encourage members to support it since 2013 with Senate Bill 47 — the very first thing I ever filed as a legislator,” Westerfield said.

Westerfield, R-Hopkinsville, isn’t the only one emotional over the bill. Kuiper said that she is feeling a lot of angst over the process, and she worries about the lives at stake if action is not taken this year.

While Kupier’s testimony lasted minutes in the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month, she said there have been months of work leading to that point.

“People don’t realize you don’t just think this up and come up with it and you’re in there in a couple of weeks in a judiciary hearing,” Kuiper said. “This has been a year in the making. We actually testified at the (Kentucky State Police Crime Lab) last year.”

“As a victim of one of these crimes it’s really hard because it’s your life,” Kuiper continued. “You’re exposed. I came out just to help survivors, and I said if I can only help one that would be all I need, but now that I realize that our voices can create change, I can use this horrific experience and hopefully create new laws in Kentucky that can make it a safer place.”

At issue among some members of the Senate are concerns over privacy rights and personal protections.

Sen. Dan Seum, R-Fairdale, caught a whirlwind of criticism after suggesting to Kuiper and Jayann Sepich that the government had done more harm to him than “all these criminals out there ever did” during the committee hearing.

Senate Bill 150, if approved and signed into law, would call for the collection of DNA via a cheek swab from those arrested on a felony charge in Kentucky.

The DNA would be run through the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS, to be matched against DNA collected from other crimes in hopes of identifying murderers, rapists and other violent criminals.

The federal government already collects DNA on arrest from those arrested on federal felony charges. The legislation in Kentucky contains a mechanism allowing for the expungement of DNA records on anyone who is not convicted of a crime.

DNA that is collected by the police and processed are only recorded using 13 specific markers unique to each person and non-identifiable by laymen. Westerfield and other advocates say that sequence is the modern day equivalent to a fingerprint.

A separate Senate bill, Senate Bill 63, the SAFE Act of 2016, is in the works which would mandate faster turnaround times for the processing of sexual assault forensic examination kits.

Survivors and advocates see the legislation moving in conjunction. As more evidence is collected, investigators will try to match the results against the database of those charged with serious crimes.

“We really need the database to link in with these kits, because you know the crimes are going to be put in there, the DNA will be put in there just like mine, and it’s going to sit there if we don’t have the proper database to match it to offenders,” Kuiper said.

Sexual assault survivors who submit to a SAFE kit have their DNA cataloged as evidence of a crime, something that Kuiper reminds she can never have erased from the system.

“Mine can never be expunged,” she said.

As the Senate drags their feet on calling the bill for a vote, Westerfield said he hopes his colleagues recognize what’s at stake.

“If ever there comes a day when we are wise enough to pass it we’re going to be able to look back and see from 2013 up until that date in time how many lives we could have saved if we passed it when we had a chance,” Westerfield said.

Pure Politics sought a comment from first-year Gov. Matt Bevin on his position on the legislation, but his office did not respond by the time this story was published.


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