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Crime victims testify in support of California bill that would expand the collection of DNA in criminal cases

Crime victims on Tuesday urged California state lawmakers to pass legislation that attempts to expand the collection of DNA in criminal cases, calling it crucial evidence that often serves as the only lead to help solve rapes, murders and cold-case investigations.

The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), would order investigators to gather swab samples, blood specimens, palm prints and fingerprints from offenders convicted of certain misdemeanors. 

Cooper says it attempts to address what law enforcement officials say is an unintended consequence of Proposition 47. The ballot measure, approved by voters in 2014, reduced some drug possession and theft crimes to misdemeanors, narrowing the list of felony crimes from which authorities are required to gather DNA evidence. 

The Assembly Public Safety Committee heard testimony on the legislation on Tuesday but postponed a vote on its approval. Chairman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) said he wanted to work with Cooper to address concerns from opponents who said the bill would disproportionately target immigrants and people of color.

Sawyer said he "would take full responsibility in finding a path forward."

Before the committee, Cooper said the drop in sample collections has led to 2,000 fewer DNA matches in crime cases, more than 450 of which involve serious bodily injuries.

"This is a women’s issue," he said, citing statistics that show women are more likely than men to be victims of rape.

Jayann Sepich told lawmakers that her daughter Katie Sepich was beaten, raped, sodomized and set on fire. She raised a sheet of paper with her own DNA profile, calling opponents' privacy concerns over the bill misguided.

She said the code, a sequence of numbers, did not reveal the type of personal information disclosed by a Social Security number or mailing address.

"I would gladly give you my DNA profile," she said. "It was numbers like these that led to identifying [Katie's] killer and putting him away so he could never do this again." 

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