Despite ACLU objections, a Senate committee approves a bill that would put all burglars' DNA on file.
By LUCY MORGAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2000
TALLAHASSEE -- A bill that would extend DNA testing to anyone convicted of burglary won the approval of a Senate committee Wednesday, despite dire predictions from an ACLU lobbyist who said the nation is not far from the day when everyone's DNA will be on file.
Larry Spalding, lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, noted that some people are pushing a move to test all babies born in U.S. hospitals instead of merely limiting DNA files to sexual predators.
"I'm concerned about this progression and slowly giving away our right to privacy," Spalding said. "DNA can also tell us if a person has epilepsy or if they are going to be gay or a lesbian or if we will be likely to develop certain diseases. Are we going to trust government to maintain information without sharing it?"
Members of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee ignored Spalding's concerns and unanimously approved the bill by Sen. Charlie Bronson, R-Indian Harbour Beach. It is supported by law enforcement officials who say more than 52 percent of those convicted of sexual crimes or murder have been previously convicted of burglary.
In other action Wednesday, the committee heard from two mothers with concerns about the state's drug scene.
A Sarasota woman whose 16-year-old daughter was raped after being drugged with "roofies," a knockout drug, urged passage of a bill that makes it possible to use the confession of a rapist when prosecutors lack the ability to prove a rape occurred.
She said her daughter did not recall the rape and did not report it for several months. The rapist confessed but could not be prosecuted because his confession could not be used against him without proof that the rape occurred.
The Senate bill, identical to one approved by a House committee Wednesday, would allow the use of such confessions after a judge determines that the confession is trustworthy and considers other corroborating evidence.
Committee members unanimously approved the bills in the House and Senate committees.
A Gainesville woman, Debbie Martinez, urged the Senate committee to pass a bill that would make it a felony to distribute nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, which is increasingly "huffed" by Florida teenagers.
Five deaths were attributed to the illegal use of the gas during 1999, including the death of a Brevard County woman that led legislators to introduce a bill that would help law enforcement officers deal with teen clubs and "raves" where the drug is sold. In other action, the Senate committee approved a bill that would allow private prison companies to build prisons in Florida and take in out-of-state inmates who would be housed for a fee.
The prisons would have to get approval from regional planning councils and submit to oversight by a state commission.
Lobbyists for the Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents prison guards, oppose the bill, saying it would pose a danger to Floridians.
Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, voted against the bill. Meek is an employee of Wackenhut Corp., one of the companies that operates private prisons.