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Politics & Government

Plan To Expand DNA Collection Heads To A Skeptical House

A measure to expand the state's DNA collection to people arrested but not convicted for certain crimes has passed the state Senate for the third time since 2013. The plan now faces a skeptical House and considerable uncertainty about its costs.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware), would make Pennsylvania one of nearly 30 states that can take DNA samples from people arrested for serious crimes and some lesser offenses -- without needing a conviction first.

Backers say such a change would help put dangerous people behind bars before they are able to commit more crimes. Opponents say law enforcement officers should have to get a search warrant before taking a swab to the inside of your cheek to obtain your genetic material. Right now in Pennsylvania, DNA collection is only required once someone is found guilty.

The plan has stalled in the House in each of the past three legislative sessions. How it will fare this time around is anyone's guess.

"You're often seeing sort of a new alliance between some of the very most conservative members and some of the more traditionally liberal members in the Democratic caucus on a host of these civil liberties issues," said Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland). He said he's not opposed to this measure, but he can see why it would make some of his colleagues wary.

"Technology is pushing the boundaries of our understanding of what is a reasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment," Bloom said. "This is one of the bills in that nebulous place."

Collecting DNA before convictions is expected to cost the state more money -- but estimates vary widely.

This year, a Senate analysis pegs the cost at more than $500,000 by year two of the phased-in DNA protocols.

In 2013, a nearly identical proposal was projected to cost more than $2 million in the first year of implementation.