Gov. Markell signs bills for improved gender equality in Delaware

 Delaware took steps to advance women’s rights Tuesday when Gov. Jack Markell signed six pieces of legislation aimed at economic, health and legal equality. (Newsworks/Zoe Read)

Delaware took steps to advance women’s rights Tuesday when Gov. Jack Markell signed six pieces of legislation aimed at economic, health and legal equality. (Newsworks/Zoe Read)

Six new bills aimed to help women who faced with domestic violence and other issues have been signed by Delaware’s governor.

Delaware took steps to advance women’s rights Tuesday when Gov. Jack Markell signed six pieces of legislation aimed at economic, health and legal equality.

The six bills are part of a bi-partisan 11-bill package announced in March focusing on issues in the areas of justice and public safety, healthcare and employment. 

During the signing, Markell credited the advocates’ efforts to work towards legislation that benefits women and their families.

“These bills are issues many of you have been pushing for a long time,” he said. “I’m so thrilled all the (legislators) have been taking charge and I feel good about the bills I’m about to sign.”

Some of the legislation focuses on improving the rights of victims of sexual violence.

Legislation sponsored by Representatives Helene Kelley and Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Nicole Poore, requires law enforcement to receive victim-centered, trauma-informed and offender-focused sexual assault training.

“When victims are at their most vulnerable moment law enforcement needs to understand the sensitivity of the victims at that time” said Keeley, D-Wilmington.

Delaware also will mandate the Department of Justice to oversee an audit of all untested and un-submitted sexual assault kits in the state.

The joint resolution was sponsored by Senators Nicole Poore, Margaret Rose Henry, Patricia Blevins and Harris McDowell, as well as Representatives Debra Heffernan and Deborah Hudson.  

“One in five women are raped in their lifetime, one in 70 men are raped in their lifetime and those numbers are staggering,” said Poore, D-New Castle. “Rape is about control, and with that being said we need to provide closure.”

Legislation sponsored by Rep. Stephanie Bolden and Sen. Patricia Blevins protects employees who are victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault from termination or discrimination when they ask for time off to recover. Similar bills have already been enacted in Illinois, New York and Rhode Island.

Markell also signed legislation that benefits women while in the judiciary system.

Legislation introduced by Henry and Bolden allows mothers who are breastfeeding to have their jury service postponed by the courts so they won’t have to bring their children to court.  

Victims or witnesses of violence who appear at court proceedings also will be allowed to give testimony over a video connection so they won’t have to see their offenders in person. This legislation was introduced by Sen. Karen Peterson and Rep. Andria Bennett

State companies also will be mandated to provide equal pay for its female employees. Legislation introduced by Longhurst and Poore requires companies awarded with a state contract to provide its employees equal pay for equal work regardless of gender.  

During the signing, Bolden said she is pleased to see change for women—a long process that she has been a part of herself.

“Most of these bills have been a part of my life in some shape or form,” she said. “So I’m really glad to be a part of this and share our stories, because back then there were no laws for us and now we have them.”

Blevins, who serves as chair of the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council, said the bills will benefit not only women, but families and men as well. She said she believes the State is leading the way for women’s rights.

“I think Delaware is on the forefront of some of these issues, and other states often look to Delaware to see how we have done certain things, particularly with domestic violence and sexual assault,” Blevins said.

“I think we always have to be ready to move and change with the tide and make sure we’re up to date, and there are some great people in the State working hard to ensure that happens.”

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