A bill which would nullify federal “voluntary” checkpoints in the Volunteer State State moved another step towards law this week.

Tennessee state Rep. Jimmy Matlock introduced HB1652 back in January. The bill would bar “voluntary” roadblocks designed to collect blood, saliva or DNA.  It passed a House subcommittee Tuesday.  Sen. Mike Bell filed a companion bill (SB1485) in the Senate. It passed on Jan 27 unanimously by a 37-0 vote.

No state, county, municipal or metropolitan form of government law enforcement officer shall participate in, lend assistance to, or be present in any official capacity at any voluntary motor vehicle checkpoint or stop conducted by a private company or research group to collect a human sample from consenting motorists stopped at the checkpoint for research or statistical purposes.

The bill stipulates that the law will apply “whether the checkpoint is funded by federal grant or contract with a federal agency and regardless of whether the motorists consenting to a giving a human sample are compensated or not.”

A Criminal Justice subcommittee recommended the bill for passage on a voice vote.

Practically speaking, the bills would block roadblocks set up as part of a multimillion dollar federal study run by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation based in Maryland operates the checkpoints, run by uniformed officers. Officers offer motorists cash for DNA samples, generally $10 for a cheek-swab and $50 for blood. Officers reportedly up the ante for motorists who refuse, offering $100.

The issue of such checkpoints gained national attention last fall when the Fort Worth, TX police department set up roadblocks for a checkpoint on behalf of the NHTSA. Daily Tech reported:

The Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) installed the roadblock north of the city during daytime traffic.  They flagged down some motorists at random and asked them to give breath, saliva, and blood samples.  The FWPD claims the effort was “100 percent voluntary” and anonymous.

It acknowledges that most of the drivers had broken no law, but it said the effort was valuable to federal contractors working to complete a 3 year, $7.9M USD survey on behalf of the The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aimed a collecting medical data for use in combatting drunk driving.

But some of the motorists who submitted samples are outraged saying that the program infringed on their Constitutional rights and that the FWPD’s “please” did not make it clear that the seizure of medical samples was “voluntary”.

Police State USA reports that the check points intimidate and bribe drivers and don’t really count as “voluntary.”

“They’re essentially lying to you when they say it’s completely voluntary, because they’re testing you at that moment,” Colosi said.

Missouri State Rep. Rory Ellinger said the checkpoints were intimidating and unnecessary. “To the average person, all the authority and prosecutorial demeanor of an officer directing you to pull over amounts to an order, not a voluntary act,” said Ellinger, an attorney representing the University City, MO, area.

Going beyond the payment, pressure and appearance of an official requirement, Ft Worth police were still carrying out one part of the tests even on those who refused to participate. From TechDirt:

Worse yet is the fact that even if you opted out of everything including the unpaid breathalyzer test, the Ft. Worth police department was still performing one check without securing permission from any drivers.

Apparently on the consent form that officers gave “voluntary” participants, fine print informed the driver that [the police had taken] “passive alcohol sensor readings before the consent process has been completed.”

It’s unclear whether drivers could ask for that data to be deleted if they didn’t want it to be collected, but what is clear is that most drivers did not notice the fine print or were unable to read it. As a result what the FWPD claimed was a “voluntary” scientific study became what appears to be an involuntary search of citizens who were breaking no law.The NHTSA defended these non-stops by stating everything was “voluntary” and that law enforcement officers were only on hand for “safety” reasons. But the passive alcohol test wasn’t voluntary. And the officers never bothered to point out stopping was voluntary until after the test subjects had actually stopped.

The federal government lacks constitutional authority to fund or run such a study, and there is no legal or constitutional requirement for state or local law enforcement to help the federal government carry it out. This bill would nullify the effort in Tennessee.

The bill now moved on to the full Criminal Justice Committee for consideration.

ACTION ITEMS

Contact members of the House Criminal Justice Committee and ask the to support HB1652, You can find committee members and contact information HERE.

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