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House Committee Begins Consideration of DNA Testing, Approves Child Protection Bill

Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act

On May 14, the House Judiciary Committee began consideration of H.R. 5057, the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act of 2008. The Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security approved the measure on May 13 and held a hearing on the bill on April 10 (see The Source, 4/11/08).

Sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the bill is aimed at convicting rapists based on DNA evidence. The measure would provide $151 million annually for FY2009-2014 for the DNA backlog processing program within the Justice for All Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-405), which is set to expire at the end of FY2009. The program facilitates improved investigation and prosecution of sexual assault cases using DNA evidence.

Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-TX) noted that while the programs funded by the Debbie Smith Act have “been successful in reducing the backlog, there is still work to do.” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) echoed this sentiment by explaining that “as the nation’s police departments and prosecutors come to recognize the value of DNA evidence in solving crimes, they have…collected DNA samples from increasing numbers of crime scenes and convicted offenders faster than they can examine and enter them into state and local databases” and that, despite best efforts, “the backlog remains almost level.”

During its consideration of the bill, the committee adopted, by voice vote, an amendment by Reps. Scott, Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Steve Chabot (R-OH), and Anthony Weiner (D-NY) that would authorize $2 million for a study to be conducted by the National Academy of Sciences to determine the factors causing the backlog and the steps that should be taken to eliminate it. The amendment also would increase the authorization from $151 million to $200 million to expand DNA gathering, preserving, and processing training for law enforcement officers, judges, and other legal personnel. The additional funding would provide enhanced training for the emergency room personnel, particularly sexual assault nurse examiners, who are responsible for the victim’s care following the incident, and for gathering and preserving DNA evidence.

In addition, the amendment would provide $50 million for research to determine how to enhance the DNA program by studying how victim examinations and DNA samples are handled, developing technology to allow the examinations to be completed more quickly, and incorporating research and development conducted in the private sector to “enhance the way these examinations are done,” according to Rep. Weiner.

Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA) offered an additional “Sunshine Amendment” to “open up the process by which the DNA national database policies and procedures are formulated,” explained Rep. Lungren. The amendment also would create a new National DNA Index System (NDIS) Advisory Board that would incorporate various local, state, and federal agencies’ viewpoints in gathering recommendations for more accessible use of the federal DNA index by state and local agencies.

A Child Is Missing Act

The committee also passed, by voice vote, H.R. 5464, the A Child Is Missing Act. Sponsored by Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL), the bill would authorize $5 million annually from FY2009-2014 for grants to operate and expand the A Child Is Missing Alert and Recovery Center, which works with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to locate missing children.

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