Black Caucus Members Protest DNA Bill Process
A bill to expand Maryland's collection of DNA samples from those arrested for violent crimes and burglary, a key component of Gov. Martin O'Malley's legislative agenda this year, continues to face opposition from black lawmakers and civil rights groups.
Members of the Legislative Black Caucus walked out of a meeting of House Democrats yesterday morning in an act of frustration, saying they felt marginalized in the discussion over whether to expand the state's DNA database.
The House of Delegates was scheduled to begin floor discussion on the bill yesterday, but legislative leaders postponed further action until Thursday to give lawmakers time to bring their amendments to the Judiciary Committee.
"We have an open-floor policy in the House Judiciary Committee," committee chairman Del. Joseph F. Vallario Jr. (D-Prince George's) told colleagues on the House floor.
Opponents to the bill -- who include some members of the Black Caucus as well as the NAACP and the ACLU -- say the legislation is too intrusive because it requires DNA collection from people before they are convicted of any crimes.
The original bill has been amended so that authorities would have to inform people of their right to expunge the sample if they are acquitted or if the charges against them are dropped. But the black caucus is seeking further concessions from O'Malley (D) and legislative leaders.
The caucus is preparing amendments to require that the samples be automatically expunged for people who are innocent, as well as to regulate how local crime labs process DNA samples, said caucus member Del. Aisha N. Braveboy (D-Prince George's).
"We are standing united behind that," Braveboy said. "There needs to be some amendments to this bill and it is our hope that the General Assembly will understand the amendments being offered by the black caucus and will support us."
O'Malley spokesman Christine Hansen said the governor is trying to reach a resolution.
"The governor is currently and has been working with members of the committee and the black caucus to address their concerns," Hansen said.
-- Philip Rucker
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