Arizona could soon be one of the first states to maintain a massive statewide DNA database.
And if the proposed legislation passes, many people — from parent school volunteers and teachers to real estate agents and foster parents — will have no choice but to give up their DNA.
Under Senate Bill 1475, DNA must be collected from anyone who has to be fingerprinted by the state for a job, to volunteer in certain positions or for a myriad of other reasons.
The bill would even authorize the medical examiner’s office to take DNA from any bodies that come into their possession.
The Department of Public Safety would maintain the collected DNA alongside the person’s name, social security number, date of birth and last known address.
Any DNA in the database could be accessed and used by law enforcement in a criminal investigation. It could also be shared with other government agencies across the country for licensing, death registration, to identify a missing person or to determine someone’s real name.
It could also be provided to someone conducting “legitimate research.”
A $250 fee could be collected from a person who submits biological samples, according to the bill. It’s not clear who would foot the cost for the dead.
No other state does this
No other state has anything this expansive in place, according to David Kaye, an associate dean for research at Penn State University who studies genetics and its application in law.
Kaye said the proposed bill is one step away from requiring DNA from anyone who wants a driver’s license.
Currently in Arizona, DNA is collected from anyone convicted of a felony or of a misdemeanor sex crime. If passed, the bill would expand the current database exponentially.
The proposed database appears to be focused on making it easier for law enforcement to use DNA in investigations, but Kaye said it’s not targeting the right people to make a significant impact when it comes to solving cases.
Collecting DNA from the dead could solve some longstanding cold cases, while having DNA from law enforcement volunteers on file might weed out accidental crime scene contamination.
“It doesn’t seem like solving crimes is a big priority here,” Kaye said. “It’s not focusing on the people most likely to be linked to crimes, it’s just spreading the net more broadly.”
There are questions about whether certain requirements of the database are even legal in the first place, Kaye said.
A federal law known as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act bars employers from using DNA testing as a condition of employment.
Connections to Hacienda case
The bill comes weeks after Phoenix police used DNA to tie nurse Nathan Sutherland to the alleged rape and impregnation of a patient at Hacienda HealthCare. Police collected DNA from male employees after the woman unexpectedly gave birth in December.
Nursing-care facility employees — like Sutherland — would have to submit their DNA under the proposed legislation. This could have expedited the Hacienda investigation and would assist with any similar cases in the future.
It’s not clear whether the proposed legislation was crafted in response to this crime.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. David Livingston, R-Peoria, has not publicly explained the motivation behind the bill. He didn’t respond to multiple calls from The Arizona Republic.
Opposition to the bill
Liz Recchia, director of government affairs for the West Maricopa Association of Realtors, said the organization is against the bill. She urged readers in an industry blog to “brace themselves” before looking at the bill.
“It isn’t very often a bill at the state Legislature affects so many Arizonan’s civil rights in such an onerous manner,” Recchia wrote.
Dozens of individuals and organizations have registered in opposition to the bill, including the Arizona Police Association, the Arizona Mortgage Lenders Association, the Arizona Association of Realtors and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Arizona.
A DPS spokesman said the department doesn’t comment on pending legislation.
SB 1475 is scheduled for a public hearing Wednesday before the Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee, which Livingston chairs.