Senate committee narrowly approves bill allowing DNA collection at felony arrest

03/10/2016 09:23 PM

FRANKFORT — Legislation allowing the collection of DNA after a felony arrest narrowly cleared a Senate committee on Thursday.

The bill which has proved divisive during the past three sessions continued the trend when it came before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which moved Senate Bill 150 to the chamber floor with a tight 6-4 vote.

SB 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, or CODIS, to be matched against DNA collected from other crimes in hopes of identifying murderers, rapists and other violent criminals.

The committee again heard from Jan Sepich, who has championed this legislation across the nation and in Congress since the murder of her daughter, Katie.

Sepich brought her fight to Congress, and Katie’s law was passed in 2010. The law was upheld in a split decision by the United States Supreme Court in 2013.

Advocates and victims say time is running out for Kentucky to join 28 other states in passing such a law; if the legislation is not enacted this session, the state would lose out on federal grants, according to Senate Judiciary Chair Whitney Westerfield and advocates.

Sepich urged lawmakers to take action on the legislation this year, so they might prevent the rapes and/or deaths of other victims. The committee also heard testimony from Michelle Kuiper, who was raped while a student at the University of Louisville in 1994 by an unknown assailant.

Kuiper told the committee DNA evidence taken at the time of arrest would not have saved her, but would have prevented the rape of three other women.

Not everyone on the committee was swayed by the emotional testimony.

Several members had constitutional objections to the legislation including Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, who said the law could be too broadly defined as written.

Clark said that having five marijuana plants and a gun is a Class D felony. “Are we going to do people like that?” he asked

“It appears to me that privacy wise and stuff, my blood, my piss, my spittle is mine. Unless there is a conviction. Unless there’s an order to give that up,” Clark said. “I very don’t like that.”

Westerfield defended the bill against the claims as being an invasion of privacy, reminding Clark that the rape kits were far more invasive than a cheek swab and that the legislation includes a mechanism to allow the DNA evidence be expunged if the case is dismissed or a suspect was found not guilty.

Sen. Dan Seum, R-Fairdale, also questioned the law on Fifth Amendment grounds allowing the right to not incriminate oneself. Seum said the legislation was “government intrusion” and “creeping oppression.”

“I have eight children and 21 grand kids that — over the years this government through its intrusion has done more damage to me than all these criminals out there ever did,” Seum said. “So I have fought this oppressive government, and that’s what we are.”

Senators voting against the bill included Sens. John Schickel, Wil Schroder, Robin Webb and Seum.

The committee unanimously passed SB 63 which would set procedures for swift handling of sexual assault evidence kits. The legislation requires the average completion date for rape kit testing not to exceed 90 days by July 1, 2018, and not to exceed 60 days by July 1, 2020.

Both bills now head to the full Senate.

House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said he would support SB 150 from the perspective of a prosecutor, but he also questioned whether the legislation would meet constitutional muster.

About Nick Storm

Nick Storm is the Anchor and Managing Editor of Pure Politics, the only nightly program dedicated to Kentucky politics. Nick covers all of the political heavyweights and his investigative work brings to light issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, like the connection between the high profile Steubenville, Ohio rape and a Kentucky hacker whose push for further investigation could put him in federal prison. Nick is also working on a feature length bio documentary Outlaw Poet: A documentary on Ron Whitehead. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickStorm_cn2. Nick can be reached at 502-792-1107 or nicholas.storm@twcnews.com.

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