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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

DNA, divorce bills pass House

Associated Press

OLYMPIA – The state House on Monday passed a bill allowing convicted felons to request DNA testing that could exonerate them.

The House also passed a bill that would prevent judges from using a woman’s pregnancy as the sole reason for denying a divorce.

The DNA testing bill was rushed through both chambers this session because it replaces a law that expired at the end of 2004. If signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, the bill will require law enforcement agencies to preserve DNA evidence for future testing.

Supporters of the bill say it’s needed because DNA testing keeps improving and getting more sophisticated. Evidence that could not have been tested a few years ago could now yield DNA results — and possibly overturn a conviction. The House unanimously concurred with the Senate’s amended version of the bill, sending it to the governor.

The divorce bill was inspired by the real-life case of Shawnna Hughes. A Spokane County Superior Court judge ruled last year that because Hughes’ ex-husband didn’t know she was pregnant at the time the divorce was granted, the divorce was illegal and must be revoked.

Because Hughes was on public assistance, the state had objected to the divorce because it might leave the state unable to pursue a father for repayment of welfare money used to support the child.

Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, said the Spokane ruling wasn’t an isolated incident.

“There is no uniformity in the law nor in how judges view pregnancy in divorce proceedings,” Dickerson said. “Similar rulings have been made on both sides of the Cascades.”

The bill passed unanimously and now goes to the Senate.