Bill creating penalties for unauthorized DNA analysis heads to final Senate panel

DNA testing
Unlawful DNA collection or usage could be a felony under the bill.

Legislation to create criminal penalties for handling another person’s DNA data without their consent is nearing its final stages in the Senate.

The Senate Commerce Committee on Monday gave its unanimous approval to Estero Sen. Ray Rodrigues‘ measure (SB 1140) building off a new Florida law expanding protections against those who could potentially use people’s genetic information.

The proposal would make submitting another person’s DNA sample for DNA analysis or conducting the analysis a third degree felony. Disclosing another person’s DNA analysis to a third party would also be a third degree felony. Collecting or retaining another person’s DNA sample with the intent to perform a DNA analysis would be a first degree misdemeanor.

Third degree felonies carry punishments of up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine and first degree misdemeanors carry punishments of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Rodrigues told the committee he is working with businesses, including DNA testing companies like Ancestry, to develop an amendment for the bill’s final committee stop in the Senate Rules Committee.

Ancestry’s government affairs director, Ritchie Engelhardt, shed some light for the committee on what their DNA sampling process is like. He also spoke on behalf of the Coalition for Genetic Data Protection, made up of Ancestry and 23andMe.

To submit a sample for those companies, and even at-home COVID-19 testing kits, people must submit a large amount of spit to get results. Because of that, he definitively said people are not sending samples to his company without consent.

“It’s a substantial amount of spit that you have to provide, and it’s not something that you could surreptitiously collect from someone without their knowledge,” Engelhardt said.

Florida last year became the first state to prevent life, disability and long-term care insurance providers from using DNA analyses for making coverage decisions without their consent. The rising popularity of DNA testing kits spurred lawmakers to expand protections.

That law’s main driver, Chris Sprowls, is now the House Speaker. And Rodrigues, a freshman Senator, helped pass that bill as one of Sprowls’ colleagues last year.

State and federal law already prevented health insurance providers from demanding customers hand over the results of their DNA tests from companies like 23andMe or AncestryDNA. But last year’s law added life, disability and long-term care insurance providers to Florida’s list.

Insurers have noted that information gleaned from genetic testing, such as a person’s medical predispositions, could be used to lower insurance premiums across the board. But while insurance companies aren’t yet using that data, that would punish genetic losers who could see a premium hike, lawmakers said.

Polk City Republican Rep. Josie Tomkow is carrying the House version (HB 833) of Rodrigues’ bill. That bill is scheduled for its final hearing in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. It passed its first panel unanimously earlier this month.

Both versions would take effect in October if they become law.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.



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