Delaware lawmakers prepare for spring session

 (Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

(Shana O'Malley/for NewsWorks)

From “banning the box” to repealing the death penalty, the 147th General Assembly will have a host of bills to debate when they return to work next Tuesday.

Several new bills are expected to be filed, which will add to legislation already sitting in committees or waiting to be debated in chambers.

A few new pieces of legislation include Rep. Trey Paradee’s House Bill 245 and Rep. Andria Bennett’s legislation to crack down on “revenge porn.” 

According to Paradee, D-Dover West, House Bill 245 will expand access to restrooms in retail stores and other businesses for people suffering from serious bowel conditions. “As a parent, I can imagine how terrible it must feel to know your child is suffering from a serious disease and, in some situations, may not be able to make it to a restroom when necessary,” said Paradee in a statement. “People with Crohn’s and other similar conditions, as well as their families, deserve some peace of mind, compassion and dignity when it comes to their medical needs.”

Rep. Bennett, D-Dover, plans to introduce legislation that would make it a misdemeanor to share non-consensual videos or photos of a person who is nude or engaged in sexual acts.

The images are often referred to as “revenge porn” because they can be used as a means to humiliate a former intimate partner. “In today’s world of social media and digital communication, it has become very easy to share information with many people in a short amount of time,” Bennett said. “As a result of that, this type of behavior has become more and more common and more and more hurtful to the victims.”

Other new issues up for debate this year are Gov. Jack Markell’s proposed gas-tax hike and clean water fee.

Bills in progress

“Ban the Box,” a bill that would prohibit employers from asking for criminal history on a job application, has made significant progress already, passing the House 31-8. The legislation, sponsored by New Castle Rep. J.J. Johnson, was introduced shortly after Markell expressed his support for the change during his State of the State address in January. The bill is currently in the Senate Labor Committee.

Google Glass, the futuristic-looking glasses that allow users to read email and take pictures, is not yet available to the public, but Delaware is already working on a law that will ban the device while driving. HB 155, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, would prohibit drivers from using Google Glass and other “wearable computer devices” while behind the wheel. “When you are behind the wheel and your attention, in this particular case, you’re trying to read a very small piece of glass which is about a square inch,” Miro said. “Information is guiding your eyes away from what’s in front of you.”

The bill unanimously passed committee at the end of last year and is ready for a House floor vote.

One of the most anticipated bills up for consideration this year is Senate Bill 19, which would repeal Delaware’s death penalty. The bill brought passionate testimony to Legislative Hall last year. A few family members of murder victims spoke in support of the repeal, saying that the trials and appeals take years, are grueling for families and create a “false promise” of justice.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, is currently in the House Judiciary Committee.

The Delaware Repeal Project, a coalition made up of more than 20 partners from across the state, is helping to bring “Dead Man Walking” author, Sister Helen Prejean, back to Delaware next week to share her activism with the state. Prejean, a Catholic nun who wrote “Dead Man Walking” after her first-hand experience working with death row inmates, is a national public speaker and advocate of ending capital punishment.

Off to a busy start

Delaware lawmakers experienced a busy start to 2014: The General Assembly returned to Legislative Hall briefly in January to kick off the second half of session prior to the start of Joint Finance Committee hearings.

In the first few weeks of session, lawmakers passed the minimum wage bill, which will raise the current rate from $7.25 to $8.25 an hour.  The law will be implemented in two phases. The first 50-cent increase will occur on June 1, 2014. The second 50-cent increase will kick in on June 1, 2015. Markell signed the bill the same night it passed the General Assembly.

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