- Associated Press - Sunday, April 7, 2019

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Texas lawmakers are considering whether to expand DNA laws and allow samples to be taken from more defendants in criminal investigations.

Existing Texas law only mandates DNA to be collected from people charged for certain felony offenses.

The proposal would expand DNA collection practices to require swabs be taken from more felony offenders.

State Rep. Reggie Smith filed the proposed measure Wednesday, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The plan would also necessitate that DNA samples be taken at the time of arrest, in an attempt to help law enforcement resolve more cases.

Rep. Tony Tinderholt, who sits on the public safety committee, said that he was worried about what would happen to DNA samples if a suspect was later ruled not guilty.

“My biggest concern is that someone that is innocent doesn’t have that still on their record,” Tinderholt said.

Texas passed the first DNA collection law in the country in 2001 that mandated samples to be taken from certain felony offenders before their conviction. Since then, more states have approved broader DNA collection laws, including 18 states that now require DNA be taken from all felony offenders at the time of their arrest. As a result, police close more cases in those places by matching DNA to offenders, according to criminal justice experts.

In Austin, the implementation of DNA in law enforcement investigations has been in the limelight for numerous years after Austin police revealed a backlog of thousands of rape kits that sat unverified for years.

“With all the attention we are putting on getting the rape kits tested, if you don’t have the offender DNA, you are not going to create matches,” said Theresa Bastian, who testified in favor of the bill last week. Her sister was killed 32 years ago in Tacoma, Washington.

She said that a suspect was recently identified through a DNA match. “It’s such an important technology, and it exists for a reason and can be put to such better use.”

Rep. Poncho Nevárez, the committee chair, said he backs the proposal but that the committee will need to further discuss the legislation’s scope.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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