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As Virginia moves to expand DNA collection, privacy concerns critics

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 13-2 Monday to expand the use of Virginia's DNA database to include collecting DNA from offenders who commit certain misdemeanor, as well as felony, crimes.

Chairman Senator Mark Obenshain (R - HARRISONBURG) introduced the bill. He said collecting DNA from people convicted of certain misdemeanors — could help prevent those people from committing even more heinous crimes in the future.

Currently, DNA is only collected from convicted felons. But the proposed law would make it so anytime someone committed misdemeanors, like assault and battery or trespassing, their DNA would also be collected.

After the vote, John and Susan Graham, parents of slain University of Virginia student Hannah Graham, said they believed their daughter's death could have been prevented had her killer's DNA already been in the system.

Susan Graham explained to the voting members of the Senate that Jesse Matthew had already committed multiple crimes before he abducted and murdered Hannah.

"This proposal will hold perps accountable," she said. "It will protect young women from sexual assault and rape, and it will save lives."

Supporters of the bill believed Matthew would have been identified and arrested long before meeting Hannah Graham, had his DNA been in the database.

"He wouldn't have been in Charlottesville hiding in plain site, working at a hospital, coaching football and preying young women of Virginia," Susan Graham added..

Albermarle County Sheriff Chip Harding testified that data that has been collected in places like New York, where this process has been used, was undeniable.

"If you’ll pass this, if one of you go back two or three years from now and say 'show me what that did for us,' I think you’re going to be astounded,” Harding testified.

Prior to the vote, research was presented that showed 70 percent  of Virginia's first-time felons have committed misdemeanors. Those pushing for the bill said getting DNA in the system, once a misdemeanor was committed, would not only help with the conviction rate, but also the crime prevention rate.

However, not everyone in the room testified in favor of DNA database expansion.

"It may be easy to get DNA from the inside of your cheek, but it is the most private and intimate information about who you are and we should not be putting that in a database,” a member of the ACLU expressed during the hearing.

But in the end, the committee voted to move forward with passing the bill.

"Please don’t let what happened to my beautiful Hannah, happen to another women in Virginia, " Susan Graham said as she took her seat.

The bill now moves ahead for another vote.