S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/07.107.dna.htm


DNA proposal targets citizens' individuality and freedoms
By Andy Brack, Publisher

JAN. 7, 2007 -- Before the legislature even gets started, there's a brewing storm over a new proposal to allow police to seize DNA samples from anyone arrested for a crime.

It wasn't too many years back that calls in Washington for a national identity card caused a fierce opposition among libertarians and conservatives, particularly radio talk show hosts. Outbursts rang about a "new world order" and generated dozens of conspiracy theories. The Rev. Pat Robertson even wrote a book titled, "The New World Order."

In the late 1990s closer to home, the administration of Gov. Jim Hodges got in hot water for allowing a company to buy drivers' license images of South Carolina residents. After a huge outcry about privacy, that practice was stopped.

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Then came September 11. A lot of concerns about privacy seemed to go out the window as the federal government passed the Patriot Act, allowed snooping of telephone conversations and e-mail, and jailed people without due process of law.

In the fear over terror, Americans lost their innocence - and some of their freedoms. Now with this bipartisan state Senate DNA proposal, South Carolinians appear to face more government intrusiveness.

On paper, the plan to take DNA samples from anyone arrested makes some sense. It will allow police to generate a big database of people who get in trouble with the law. In turn, that could help curb crime. And, as some senators say, it may help innocent people establish their innocence.

But at what cost? Once your identity is taken away, it will be hard for you to get it back.

The state already has a DNA database of more than 67,000 individuals, most of whom are convicted felons. To add more personal and private information to the database - especially from people who have not been convicted - seems to take too much away from individual citizens. What's to prevent, for example, the government from deciding to sell the data in 10 or 15 years?

Not only does this proposal seem dangerous from an individual liberties standpoint, but it is chock full of constitutional and political problems. Lawmakers would be advised to go slowly on this one.

* * *

Gov. Mark Sanford's annual campaign to lose friends and reduce his influence in the legislature started early this year.

In the months leading to the start of a legislative session, Sanford and GOP legislators again took pains to highlight how they're part of the happy Republican family. They downplayed past run-ins and said they were looking forward to a productive session.

Just after the November election, for example, House Speaker Bobby Harrell noted voters re-elected Sanford, which told him "they wanted him to stay governor and I take that to mean they want us to work with him, and we intend to try to do so."

But what a difference the start of the session makes. In rolling out a $6.5 billion executive budget plan, the governor shot himself in the foot with this rhetoric at the front of his 264-page proposal:

"During this past legislative session, when the state's economy continued to improve and hundreds of millions of unanticipated new taxpayer dollars poured into state coffers … , the commitment of many House Republicans to a spending limit pledge went out the window."

House Speaker Bobby Harrell got pretty upset: "It makes me think that all the effort I put in the last three or four months toward a more congenial relationship has been in vain," he told The Post and Courier. "If the goal is to lower the rhetoric and work together, writing something like that in this very important document does not help at all."

Bottom line: Look for another Sanford publicity stunt in the General Assembly in coming months to make a frosty relationship even frostier.

Send your comments to Andy Brack at brack@statehousereport.com. His book of commentary, Bugging the Palmettos, is available for $15.00. Click here for more.

Recent commentary

lighter side
On resolutions

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

feedback
1/4: What a dumb sentence

To the editor:

I have a hard time believing that anyone would write the following [Commentary, 12/31] about the upcoming legislative session.

"Here's a look at a real reform agenda that could make a big difference in the lives of most people in South Carolina if politicians were courageous enough to embrace it:

Education: Perhaps the best thing to get South Carolina out of the cellar is to not do anything for awhile and give existing ideas a chance to mature."

We have waited 22 years for Dick Riley's Education Improvement Act ( with accompanying sales tax that continues on to eternity) to improve education as he promised it would. How many more decades do you recommend we "not do anything" and "let our educational stew simmer awhile"?

-- Hugh Campbell, Hartsville

1/2: Restructuring body is good idea

To the editor:

Good idea [Commentary, 12/31] on having a standing restructuring committee. I would take it a step farther and expand it to one which continually looks at the performance of all of state government.

We are talking about restructuring because the governance model of 1895 is viewed as obsolete, but we have to consider that today’s governance model will likely become obsolete as well. As such, restructuring should be viewed as both a means to an end – more effective governance – and a continual process. Changes that are made now based on today’s needs may need to be re-changed as our state and its needs evolve.

-- Earl Capps, Summerville, S.C.

Recent feedback

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Davis joins Statehouse Report as new editor

South Carolina newsman Bill Davis of Charleston has joined S.C. Statehouse Report as its new editor, publisher Andy Brack announced.

"Bill is bringing a refreshing but seasoned pair of eyes to covering what's going to happen at the Statehouse for the Report," Brack said.

Davis, the son of noted scholars and the grandson of a former White House AP correspondent, has been a reporter and writer for papers in three different states over his 10-year career.

Last year, Mr. Davis was a national finalist for short form reporting award, placing third, as well as the winner of the SC Press Association's top award for feature/profile writing for weekly papers for a piece he wrote on Gov. Mark Sanford. A graduate of the University of Georgia, Davis also covered the Virginia General Assembly when he worked for a daily paper in that state. Davis is a married, father of two, living in Charleston, S.C.

AVAILABLE NOW: Furman University's Don Gordon has great things to say about Andy Brack's new book of commentaries, "Bugging the Palmettos." Click here to learn more and buy the book -- only $15.00!

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