Stalled DNA collection bill is revived in Legislature

Joseph Gatto

Assemblymen Ian Calderon, from left, Mike Gatto and Gatto’s wife, Danielle, unveil a memorial freeway sign during the Joseph Gatto Memorial Highway Dedication Ceremony, which took place at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts on the Cal State L.A. campus on Nov. 12, 2014.

(Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

A measure to shore up California’s DNA collection system in criminal cases will be resurrected in the state Legislature, lawmakers said Monday, just weeks after the bill was shelved in an Assembly committee over vehement objection by its author.

The measure, by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles), would allow for DNA collection of people charged with a serious felony. It’s meant to be a back-up for the state’s current DNA collection law, which was struck down by a state appellate court last year. The law, which was approved by voters as Proposition 69 in 2004, remains in place pending a ruling from the California Supreme Court.

Gatto’s bill was held in the Assembly Appropriations committee last month, but has been granted a quick reprieve. The proposal will be amended into another bill, still to be determined, that’s awaiting action in the Senate.

Gatto’s office attributed the bill’s previous stumble to “a misunderstanding about [its] intent” and said the new language would “clarify the objective” of the proposal.


Gatto had been particularly vocal with his displeasure that the bill had been held, describing the decision as “unfathomable” in one Twitter message.

The issue is a personal one: Gatto’s father, Joseph Gatto, was shot and killed in his Silver Lake home in 2013. The case remains unsolved.

“One of the hardest speeches I’ve ever had to give was to explain to my children why their grandfather was not coming home again.... For a lot of families like mine, you’re waiting for that phone call from law enforcement that forensic evidence has led to a lead in that case,” Gatto said on the Assembly floor last week.

In a statement Monday, Gatto said he was “pleased that this misunderstanding is behind us.”


The purpose of the bill, AB 84, was " to assure that victims and their families are able to constitutionally pursue criminals with DNA testing, and bring violent criminals to justice,” Gatto said. “I am grateful to know that effort is back on track.”

Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said she would sign on as a co-author of the measure.

“This was always an important issue, given that the Supreme Court could sustain the decision overturning California’s DNA testing laws,” Atkins said in a statement. “I’m confident that working with Mr. Gatto and the bill’s many supporters, concerns over cost can be addressed through amendments in the Senate.”

The bill is backed by the advocacy group Crime Victims United, but it also has detractors, including the California State Sheriffs Assn., which has said the measure is premature in advance of the court’s ruling. 

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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