In the face of new legislation, Arizona stands to become one of the leading states to sustain a large-scale, statewide DNA databank.
If passed, the proposed law forces many community members throughout Arizona to submit their DNA to the massive database. Everyone, from community volunteers and schoolhouse teachers to realtors and stepparents, would be required to provide DNA samples—no questions asked.
Introduced by Republican Arizona State Senator David Livingston, Senate Bill 1475 seeks to ensure the collection of DNA from any citizen whose profession requires state-ordered fingerprinting. Additionally, anyone volunteering where there is mandatory fingerprinting must also submit DNA to the database.
The law could even grant county medical examiners the authority to extract DNA from any corpses that come across their examination table.
In conjunction with documenting the individual’s name, date of birth, Social Security number, and last-known address, maintaining the extensive collection of DNA would become the responsibility of Arizona’s Department of Public Safety.
All DNA comprising the database would be accessible and at the disposal of law enforcement investigating a criminal case. Additionally, law enforcement agencies nationwide would be able to access the database for licensing matters, registering deceased persons, identifying missing persons, or in determining an individual’s actual identity.
The Department of Public Safety could also provide information contained within the database to anyone conducting “legitimate research.”
Per SB 1475, citizens required to submit genetic samples could face a $250 fee; however, it’s unclear where funding will come from for DNA collection from the deceased.
Arizona’s All Alone
David Kaye, a faculty member at Penn State University whose primary focus lay with genetics and the law, highlights Arizona is the only state to implement such an extensive system.
The associate dean at PSU further states the legislative proposal is not much different from collecting DNA when issuing driver’s licenses.
Presently, the state of Arizona extracts DNA from all convicted felons or anyone with a misdemeanor offense involving a sex crime. Upon approval, the legislation would drastically increase the number of DNA in the database.
Although the proposed DNA-bank centers around facilitating investigation efforts by law enforcement, experts in the field say, the repository won’t significantly mitigate unsolved cases because it targets the wrong people.
DNA collection from the deceased could lead to the closing of multiple cold cases, while requiring police force volunteers to have their DNA on file may prevent the unintentional contamination of crime scenes.
Kaye mentions the statewide DNA databank begs the question as to whether the practice is even permissible in many cases. For instance, an existing federal law named the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Acts restricts companies from conditionally relying on DNA for employment purposes.
The Hacienda case Connection
Bill 1475 arrives in the weeks following an investigation by Phoenix PD where DNA tied a nurse, Nathan Sutherland, to the supposed rape of a Hacienda HealthCare patient which resulted in pregnancy. After an unexpected birth by the female patient in December, Phoenix PD retrieved DNA samples from all male employees employed by the healthcare provider.
Under the new bill, employees of healthcare facilities would be required to surrender their DNA to the state. Concerning the Hacienda case, this requirement could have sped-up investigation efforts and would do the same for potentially similar situations moving forward.
Whether the introduction of the recent legislation is a result of the Hacienda investigation remains unclear.
State Senator David Livingston has yet to comment on the reason for the proposed legislation.
Resistance to the bill
Many organizations, including the West Maricopa Association of Realtors (WMAR), say they are against enacting the law. Director of governments affairs at WMAR, Liz Recchia, expressed in an online post to “brace themselves” before examining the bill.
Recchia also noted the rarity for a state-level bill to disrupt such a large portion of Arizona’s population.
Alongside many individual citizens, numerous organizations registered counter to the proposal, such as the Arizona Association of Realtors, the Arizona Mortgage Lenders Association, the Arizona Police Association, and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Arizona.
Despite political bodies not commenting on unresolved legislation, there was an open hearing yesterday in front of the State Senate’s Transportation and Public Safety Committee chaired by Livingston.