President Barack Obama signed two pieces of legislation with New Mexico origins on Thursday – a bill that would allow for enhanced DNA collection at crimes scenes and another that would establish a federal registry of military personnel sickened by burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The burn pit bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., would create a registry similar to the Agent Orange Registry and the Gulf War Registry. The establishment of an open burn pit registry aims to help patients, doctors and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs determine to what extent air pollution, caused by open air burn pits, has led to medical diseases among servicemembers.
The legislation will also serve as a vehicle for improved communication and information dissemination for affected veterans.
As early as 2002, U.S. military installations in Afghanistan and Iraq began to rely on open-air burn pits to dispose of waste materials. The U.S. Department of Defense and numerous contractors made frequent use of burn pits at a number of bases in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The DNA bill, introduced in 2010 by former Rep. Harry Teague, honors Katie Sepich, a New Mexico State University student who was murdered in 2003. Her killer was arrested that same year for unrelated crimes, but he was not identified because New Mexico did not collect DNA from felony arrestees at the time. Three years later, after he was convicted of another crime, he was identified with DNA evidence.
The bill Obama signed Thursday will encourage states to collect DNA from individuals arrested or charged with serious crimes.