- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 23, 2008

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — A divisive crime-fighting bill that would allow Maryland to collect DNA samples from people not yet convicted of a crime won approval yesterday in the state legislature.

The bill, backed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, would allow police to collect genetic information from people accused of certain violent crimes and burglaries. That DNA would be added to a state database, which currently contains DNA only of convicts.

The bill passed the House of Delegates 134-4 yesterday after it was changed to address concerns from black lawmakers and others that the proposal would overstep privacy rights.

“It starts something I don’t want to see started,” said Delegate Donna Stifler, Harford Republican, who voted against the bill because of privacy concerns. “If we don’t have our DNA, we don’t have anything.”

The bill passed without debate, but it got off to a rocky start, with black lawmakers so upset about the original proposal they walked out of a meeting where it came up. The bill was amended to weaken it somewhat: Changes include a provision that the state will dispose of DNA information from people cleared of wrongdoing — and all but one black lawmaker voted for the final version yesterday.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is scheduled to start debate on a similar bill tomorrow. The contentious nature of the crime-fighting proposal means the bill will likely require negotiations between the House and Senate to iron out a final version to send to the governor.

According to a state analysis, 11 states, including Virginia, currently allow the collection of genetic material from people before conviction. Supporters of the proposal say it can help solve crimes.

“I think this is going to be a great help in solving a lot of unsolved mysteries on our streets,” said Delegate Veronica L. Turner, Prince George’s Democrat, who pushed for some of the amendments.

Miss Turner said the support of the black caucus came in part because it was also tweaked to allow convicts who say they are innocent to request DNA evidence to clear their names.

“We still have to protect the innocent, and protect people’s rights,” she added.

The DNA samples would be kept by the state police crime laboratory. An initial state estimate puts the bill’s cost at about $1.3 million next year. State analysts guessed that if the bill were law, DNA samples would be taken from about 42,620 people a year.

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