DNA bill expected to pass key committee

A bill that would expand the criminal DNA database to include suspects of every violent crime appeared likely to pass a key House committee late Friday, despite a request from black lawmakers to postpone discussion.Members of the House judiciary committee debated potential changes to Gov. Martin O’Malley‘s proposal to collect DNA from all suspects in violent crimes. His administration is offering significant amendments to alleviate resistance from the legislature’s black caucus who say the proposal encourages racial profiling.

Some members of the caucus asked House leaders to delay the committee vote to discuss the changes. The request was denied.

“It was a proper, reasonable request,” said Del. Jill Carter, a Baltimore City Democrat. “The impact it has on black people is going to be different and more significant that it will be to other people.”

The state currently collects DNA samples from those convicted of felonies or child sex abuse. Under the amended proposal, the state will collect samples from those charged with violent crimes and will automatically destroy samples if a suspect is arrested but not indicted. The governor’s proposal also adds about 15 crimes including arson, rape and manslaughter.

Committee members indicated they would have passed the bill as O’Malley originally proposed. Several Republican members supported the request to delay a vote until after Monday, when the black caucus is scheduled to meet next.

“I would hope that if my caucus made that request it would be honored,” said Minority Whip Christopher Shank, a sponsor of the legislation. “I think we should give the black caucus the ability to work this out.”

A final vote was not available by press time.

Not all black lawmakers oppose the bill. Del. Gerron Levi, a Prince George’s County Democrat, suggested the delay was a strategy to ultimately kill the proposal before next week’s deadline for bills to cross to opposite General Assembly chambers.

“I do not think it’s fair to say there is one black side of the equation or another,” Levi said “I think it’s split at best.”