CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire on Wednesday moved a step closer to joining 47 other states that collect DNA from all convicted felons.
House lawmakers gave preliminary approval to a bill that would expand the state's DNA collection law to include all felons, not just those convicted of certain violent crimes. In 2008, the House rejected a similar measure over concerns about privacy and overreaching by law enforcement, but neither of those objections were raised Wednesday.
Instead, the only debate focused on what to do with the DNA samples after collection. Lawmakers rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, that would have required the state to destroy DNA specimens once authorities had extracted identifying information from them.
The DNA profiles are entered into a national database used to match evidence left at a crime scene to the perpetrator of the crime. All states except New Hampshire, Idaho and Nebraska collect samples from all felons. Many states also require sex offenders and those who commit misdemeanors to submit DNA samples, and 21 states allow samples to be taken from those arrested for but not convicted of certain offenses, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
New Hampshire law requires DNA collection from those convicted of homicide, negligent homicide, first- and second-degree assault, sexual assault, kidnapping, arson, burglary and robbery. Kurk, who led the charge against expanding the law two years ago, said Wednesday he would support including all felons if the samples were destroyed after the identifying profile information was collected.
He argued that keeping the samples would give the state access to private medical and family relationship information not just about felons but their families as well.
"It's not just about you, it also applies to every member of your family because we share these genes obviously, from our mothers and fathers," he said. "I think we are imperiling the medical and other kinds of privacy for all the family members of these folks who are criminals."
Kurk acknowledged that there are good reasons to keep the samples: if a database search turns up a match, authorities want to make sure the profile is accurate. And if the standards change someday regarding which segments of DNA should be included, authorities won't want to go back and collect new samples.
"Those are too good reasons for retaining this," he said. "In my opinion, they're good but not sufficient."
Most state laws are silent or unclear on the issue of destroying DNA samples, said Sara Huston Katsanis of the Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy at Duke University. In general, laws are written to allow laboratories that perform offender testing to retain samples for quality control purposes. And most laws around genetic privacy that ban retention of DNA samples specifically exclude DNA samples retained for law enforcement purposes, she said.
Rep. Gene Charron, R-Chester, argued against Kurk's amendment, saying it would dilute the bill. He urged lawmakers to follow the example of other states.
"I've never been one to enjoy trying to emulate other states, but we're talking about taking samples we're going to be able to compare nationwide," he said.
The bill goes next to the House Finance Committee.