What the one hand giveth, the other taketh away — words to live by for the Republican majority at the Georgia legislature; which, it seems, just cannot bear to see the power and control of state government lessened.
Last Wednesday, for example, many Georgians had their eyes fixed on the Georgia General Assembly as the Senate debated and subsequently passed SB 10 – legislation that allows local communities to chose whether or not to allow Sunday sales of alcohol. The passage of SB 10 was hailed as a victory for personal liberty; which it was – a baby step, but a step in the right direction nonetheless.
Yet, darned if shortly after passage of the alcohol bill, the Senate moved on SB 80, sponsored by Sen. Joshua McKoon (R-Columbus) and backed by several of his Republican colleagues. This privacy-invasive, constitutionally-defective measure would authorize government agents to forcibly take a DNA sample from every person in Georgia who is arrested for a felony – not convicted, but merely arrested; and not just felonies for which DNA evidence is relevant, but for any felony.
If signed into law, this legislation would bring Georgia in line with two dozen other states and the federal government, by dramatically expanding the state’s DNA database. Through its enactment, this legislation would make Georgia yet another state in which the desire of law enforcement to gather as much information on as many people as possible, trumps the clear intent and purpose of the Constitution of the United States to protect citizens against unwarranted and unreasonable seizure of evidence against them.
It is not as if Georgia law enforcement agencies do not already have ample authority to collect DNA from persons convicted of major felonies in which DNA evidence may be relevant, including sex offenders. But that apparently is not enough for many current GOP legislators and some of their Democrat colleagues. And this is not the first time such a constitutionally-problematic measure has come before the General Assembly.
A similar proposal recently was pushed by former Rep. Rob Teilhet (D-Smyrna), who last year mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Attorney General (ironically, the very office charged with protecting the civil liberties of Georgians). Now, the legislation is back; pushed by the Republican Party, which used to be a Party committed to limiting – not expanding – government power.
It also used to be a bedrock principle of our judicial system that a person was presumed innocent until proven guilty. Now, however, as reflected in this latest example of the perennial, Republican-led drive to “get tough on crime,” the government would only have to charge someone with an offense in order to demand access to the person’s most intimate and personal data – their DNA. The government would not even have to formally indict the person – much less convict them – in order to gain the treasure trove of information on them and their biological family that is contained in a person’s DNA.
Much like Teilhet’s proposal, SB 80 would permit individuals eventually not convicted of a felony or that have their charges reduced, to later petition that the state expunge the database of their DNA sample. Of course, that is assuming the exonerated individual has the resources and the knowledge to pursue such a time-consuming process; and that the data has not already been shared with federal or other states’ agencies.
Supporters of the bill claim that its passage could help solve crimes or exonerate individuals falsely convicted (as if the purpose of the bill is to help those accused of committing crimes). That may be; but at what price? The Fourth Amendment to our Constitution was not made a part of that magnificent document in order to make law enforcement’s job easier. It was placed there to protect people from the prying government – a fact and a history of which those who support SB 80 are either ignorant or uncaring.
By Bob Barr — The Barr Code