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Senate votes to add juveniles to state DNA database and combat cyber-bullying

Monday, March 3, 2008 | 9:47 p.m. CST; updated 3:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

news@ColumbiaMissourian.com

JEFFERSON CITY — Monday was crime-fighting day in the Missouri legislature, as senators gave first-round approval to bills tightening the state’s laws regarding DNA testing and cyberharassment. They put aside the issue of steroids to be debated at a later date.

The Senate unanimously voiced approval for a bill proposed by Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, that would include juvenile offenders convicted of certain misdemeanor and felony crimes on the state’s DNA database.

Affected by the bill would be juvenile offenders who are found guilty or plead “no contest” to certain violent misdemeanor and felony crimes. They would be required to submit to a blood or buccal (mouth) sample to the Missouri State Highway Patrol or the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The debate was dominated by Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, who said the state’s reimbursement policies for people wrongly convicted in the state should be given a closer look.

Green commended Mayer for his initial bill and said he thinks the bill would both cut down on the amount of wrongful convictions and help prosecutors protect citizens from repeat offenders, but said it should be done in conjunction with readdressing wrongful imprisonment reimbursement.

Green specifically cited “overzealous prosecutors,” such as former Durham, N.C., District Attorney Mike Nifong, who unsuccessfully prosecuted the controversial Duke University lacrosse cases, as evidence that there should be checks in place to make sure the wrongly accused are sufficiently compensated.

“It’s a shame that you have to get on ‘60 Minutes’ before some of these people’s voice can be heard,” Green said.

A bill that would limit harassing language over the Internet and impose harsher penalties on the harassment of a minor was also OK’d by the Senate on Monday.

The issue of cyberharassment in the state has gained national attention following the suicide of Megan Meier, a St. Charles teen, in October 2006 and an increase in harassment on college campuses, according to Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Louis, the bill’s sponsor.

“After the Megan Meier incident became public, there was a huge outcry amongst people wanting to know why anything couldn’t be done, and so we started to take a look at our harassment and stalking laws and saw some problems that they were outdated on how we communicate,” Rupp said.

Legislation that would allow for steroid testing was set aside after a passionate debate over whether high school athletes should be held to a higher standard when it comes to testing for controlled substances.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Luann Ridgeway, R-Smithville, would give school districts the right to test the urine of any high school athlete for controlled substances, “including but not limited to anabolic steroids.”

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, compared the attempt to the federal education program No Child Left Behind because he thought the bill would impose a sweeping mandate and take control from local authorities.

He also said he thought the bill targets students most likely to get good grades and be drug-free — high school athletes — and neglects other students.

“We’re not going to drug-test anybody that makes first chair in band that may be popping meth so they can practice the flute until 4 o’clock in the morning,” Crowell said. Ridgeway “is only going to do that to these kids that are trying and participating in sports.”

Sen. Matt Bartle, R-Jackson County, a supporter of the bill, said he hopes it will move forward and eventually face an up-or-down vote.

“The bill is designed to protect student athletes,” Bartle said. “When you have a very small percentage who are cheating, who are shifting the competitive balance in their favor, that does a great disservice to the 97 percent who are playing by the rules.”


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