Hour Two: A Ban on DNA Discrimination

The Senate approved the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act on Thursday. Congressional observers say the bill is likely to be passed by the House. If it reaches his desk, President Bush plans to sign the bill.

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BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.

MIKE PESCA, host:

Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, famous librarians, I'm Mike Pesca.

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

And I'm Rachel Martin. It's Friday, April 25th, 2008. TGIF to you.

PESCA: Oh, you want to - I'm more of a Bennigan's guy, if that's what you mean.

MARTIN: Really?

PESCA: Yeah, because of the cheer. They do that in TGIF, too. Again, I've made this point before, I do not like businesses that are sentences: The Country's Best Yogurt, Nobody Beats the Wiz, Thank God It's Friday. I feel like they're doing my job for me. I'll decide if I'm thanking God it's Friday, thank you.

MARTIN: Well, I had no idea that was going to provoke that response from you. It's fascinating.

PESCA: Every time. It's like business names as the thought police. Don't like it.

MARTIN: So, be warned America. OK, coming up on this hour: this weekend will mark 150 years since Frederick Law Olmstead and his partner Calvert Vaux won the competition to design Central Park. I mean, maybe you didn't even know who this person is, but he created this beautiful place that's been used as a model for urban parks all around the country and the world. So, we'll have an appreciation of Olmstead coming up in the show.

PESCA: Olmstead and Vaux rocks. Also, an update on the polygamous compound in Texas.

MARTIN: And the film "War Inc." opens at the Tribeca Film Festival. The director, Josh Seftel will join us in studio. We'll also get the day's headlines in just a minute, but, first, Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy is calling it the first civil right's bill of the new century. A law the Senate passed yesterday would prohibit health insurance companies and employers from using DNA test results to make decisions about who gets what kind of health insurance and who gets hired or fired.

PESCA: It's called the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act. Senator Mike Enzi, Republican from Wyoming, explained yesterday on the Senate floor why he thinks it's important.

Senator MIKE ENZI (Republican, Wyoming): Insurance companies sometimes want a blood test. That blood test will tell far more than it ever did in the history of the world. And that can have some dire consequences except for this bill. This bill will protect people.

MARTIN: And Connecticut Democrat Chris Dodd said DNA testing should not be misused.

Senator CHRISTOPHER DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): We all potentially have a genetic makeup that makes us more susceptible to some kind of an ailment. And that possibility should not be the obstruction to an insurance policy or a job.

PESCA: The Senate approved the bill by a vote of 95 to zero. Now, it goes to the House where another version of the bill passed last year 420 to three. But the history of this legislation goes back further. The Senate passed similar bills in 2003 and 2005, but the House didn't act. Then, when the House did pass a bill this year, it was held up in the Senate by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn.

Now, how does this whole thing work, again?

(Soundbite of song "I'm Just A Bill")

SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK: (Singing) Well, now I'm stuck in committee, and I'll sit here and wait while a few key congressmen discuss and debate whether they should let me be a law. Oh, how I hope and pray...

MARTIN: OK, actually, it didn't get stuck in committee. Senator Coburn put a hold on the bill, but there are no lyrics for that, and we wanted to play that song, right? The Senator was concerned that the bill might lead to lawsuits, and he also said that the bill contained an exception allowing discrimination based on genes from embryos and fetuses. The bill's language was changed to the satisfaction to the pro-life senator and it sailed through the Senate.

PESCA: Just in time for today which I found out was national DNA day. Who knew? The House is expected to vote next week, and passage seems all but certain. President Bush supports the legislation, so, barring a pretty shocking turn around, this bill's going to become a law. We have a little clip of what that will sound like.

(Soundbite of song "I'm Just A Bill")

SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK: (Singing) He signed you bill. Now you're a law. Oh, yes!

PESCA: And oh, yes, remember I mentioned that that Senate vote was 95 to zero? I always like to look, well, who didn't vote for it? It turns out the majority of the five senators who missed the vote are all doing the same thing, running for president. McCain, Clinton, and Obama did not show up for the vote.

MARTIN: You can go to npr.org throughout the day for updates on this and other stories. Now, let's get some more of the day's headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

BILL WOLFF: This is NPR.

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