Trends and Transitions: January 2010
Taking DNA Samples
All 50 states require certain convicted felons to submit a DNA sample, and 47 collect samples from all felons. Many states also require sex offenders and those who commit misdemeanors to submit DNA samples.
States continue to widen the scope of DNA collection. Twenty-one now allow samples to be taken from those arrested for, but not yet convicted of, certain offenses. Seven states passed laws last year.
Proponents of taking DNA samples from arrestees argue that, with more samples in the database, it may help prevent crime, free the innocent and make criminal identification more objective. They also contend that many methods of DNA extraction—such as swabbing the inside of the mouth—are minimally invasive and no more intrusive than taking fingerprints. Arrestees are far more likely to be linked to a crime they previously committed—but were not arrested for—when they submit a DNA sample.
Others are concerned with the civil liberties and privacy of those who give DNA samples. They argue that specimens should be treated with the highest security for the purposes deemed appropriate by each state legislature, and that stiff state and federal penalties should exist for those who abuse the information.
Legislators considering expanding DNA collections are also concerned about the costs. Without adequate funding, more sample collections could overwhelm local forensic laboratories, creating a backlog of unanalyzed samples and diminishing any potential benefits.
Opting Out of Health Reform
States share a complicated relationship with the federal government in regulating various aspects of the health insurance market and in enacting health reforms.
In response to federal health reform legislation, members of at least 11 state legislatures are using the legislative process to limit, alter or oppose certain possible federal actions, including single-payer provisions and mandates that would require the purchase of insurance.
Arizona has proposed a state constitutional amendment that says, in part: “To preserve the freedom of all residents of the state to provide for their own health care… A law or rule shall not compel, directly or indirectly, any person, employer or health care provider to participate in any health care system.”
Arizona citizens will vote next November on this constitutional amendment that, if adopted, could block future state health reforms and at least raise questions about some features within future federal health reforms.
Formal resolutions or bills also have been filed in Florida, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Wyoming. At least 10 more states have discussed future action or intentions. For the latest details, go to www.ncsl.org/magazine.
Online Voter Registration Expands
It used to be that when you reached 18, you had to go to the elections office, a library or another public office to register to vote. Today, you can register over the Internet in several states.
In 2001, Arizona became the first to allow qualified voters to register entirely online. In the 2008 presidential election year, 69 percent of the registrations and updates received by Maricopa County (Phoenix) were completed online using the state’s EZ Voter Registration site.
In 2007, Washington joined Arizona. More than 158,000 Washington voters completed registration forms using the online system in 2008. California enacted online registration in 2008, permitting online filing up to 15 days before an election.
And last year, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon and Utah joined the online states. At press time, legislation is pending in Michigan, New Jersey and New York.
“The system works effectively and securely because it directly links the secretary of state’s website with the Motor Vehicles Division driver’s license database—enabling digital signature verification,” Maricopa County Recorder Helen Purcell says. “In bad economic times, with budget cuts and layoffs, online registration reduces costs and makes it easier to deliver better service to our constituents.”
To use the system in Arizona, a voter must have a current state driver’s license or a state ID card. Voters without either must submit their registration form by mail or in person with another form of acceptable proof, such as a birth certificate or passport. All methods of registration, including online submissions, must be completed 29 days before an election.
Congress is considering legislation to require all states to offer online voter registration for federal elections. Introduced in March 2009, the Voter Registration Modernization Act (H.R. 1719) would effectively repeal current list maintenance procedures required by the 1993 National Voter Registration Act. The bill would require states to set the cut-off date for online voter registrations not more than 15 days prior to a federal election. This requirement is a cause of concern for some election officials who cite tight deadlines in processing new registrants, eliminating duplicate records, and mailing out confirmation notices before Election Day. Most states now require voters to register 25 to 30 days before an election.
States Water Food Deserts
A number of states have followed Pennsylvania’s lead by creating public/private financing to expand grocery stores into underserved areas. These “food deserts” are areas or communities that lack stores selling healthy food. Shops in these neighborhoods often offer only candy, cigarettes and snack foods, rather than fresh produce and other grocery staples. Studies have shown that people living in food deserts suffer disproportionately from diet-related illnesses such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Since 2004, Pennsylvania’s Fresh Food Financing Initiative has provided $30 million in seed money that, leveraged with $90 million in private investments, has helped open, expand or improve 74 grocery projects in almost half the counties in the state. These projects vary from large-scale grocery stores to small corner shops, but all meet the goal of reaching customers who were having difficulty buying healthy food.
Three other states created similar initiatives in 2009. New York included $10 million in state funding last year to be parlayed with private investments to help build and renovate stores. The state also is offering funding and technical assistance to increase energy efficiency at stores, which is usually one of the largest costs for a grocery retailer. New York will promote local food production as well, by requiring that funded retailers participate in the state’s Pride of New York marketing program and buy locally produced foods as much as possible. The state hopes to start loaning money this year.
Illinois and Louisiana also passed measures creating funding initiatives for grocery stores in 2009, and Ohio considered legislation.