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Delaware Senate Democrats

Delaware Senate passes criminal justice reform bill aimed at helping people find work

June 11, 2019

Delaware State Senate Majority Caucus
Contact: Scott Goss (302) 744-4180, or
Dylan McDowell (302) 744-4282

DOVER – Legislation aimed at removing barriers preventing people who have paid their debt to society from finding good-paying jobs as an electrician passed the Delaware Senate on Tuesday.

The unanimous vote marked the fourth bill in a 19-part criminal justice reform package unveiled in March to clear the Senate.

“Making sure people who were once caught up in the criminal justice system have access to good-paying jobs is one of the best ways we can prevent them from becoming repeat offenders,” said Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton, the lead sponsor of Senate Bill 43.

“I’m a lifelong electrician and IBEW member and I know how important this and other skilled trade career paths are for countless Delawareans. Within reason, I think we need to make sure that we aren’t arbitrarily denying people that opportunity, especially as retirements continue to outpace the rate at which new apprentices and graduates join the field. This legislation helps us do that by easing some of the existing restrictions and I’m proud to be a prime sponsor on the bill,” he said. “I would like to thank my Senate colleagues for recognizing this as an opportunity to help working Delawareans, modernize our criminal code, and improve our job market for skilled tradesmen.”

State law currently bars an electrician from being granted a license in Delaware if they have been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor related to providing electrical service. The board, however, can grant waivers if an applicant’s felony conviction occurred more than 5 years ago or they are no longer incarcerated, on work release or probation at the time.

Walsh’s bill would reduce the felony waiver requirement to 3 years in instances where the underlying felony was committed against a person and 2 years in all other instances. For misdemeanor offenses, the legislation would remove the waiver requirement entirely for applicants on probation at a Level II supervision or lower.

That could end up being important because, according to the National Electrical Contractors Association, the roughly 7,000 electricians that join the field each year are still struggling to catch up to the 10,000 who retire annually. That gap mirrors a growing concern across many skilled trades that wait times, work quality, and cost could all start to spiral out of control as rising demand strains dwindling supply.

The legislation also would cap the period in which the board can consider someone’s criminal history at 10 years so long as the applicant has no other criminal convictions during that time.

The one exception would be for any felony sexual offense, which would become an automatic disqualifier for a waiver.

Legislation pending in the House would reduce similar barriers for people with criminal histories seeking careers in the field of massage therapy and HVAC repair.

Tuesday’s vote comes on the heels of Senate votes on other criminal justice reform bills:

Last month, the upper chamber unanimously passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington, that would revise the state’s drug code to address the current system’s disproportionate impact on communities of color.

That same day, the Senate also unanimously supported a bill sponsored by Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Brandywine, to convert underage consumption of alcohol from a criminal act to a civil offense, an attempt to keep teens from becoming trapped in the criminal justice system.

And in April, the Senate unanimously passed legislation sponsored by Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington, that would provide a second chance to hundreds of people who have paid their debt to society by expanding the state’s criminal record expungement process.

All four bills are now awaiting action in the House of Representatives.

“My fellow Senators and I are committed to supporting this excellent criminal justice reform package in the hopes of undoing some of the unintended consequences related to our harshest crime policies,” said Senate President Pro Tem David McBride, D-Hawk’s Nest, a co-sponsor of every bill in the reform package. “Everyone deserves a second chance in life and an opportunity to earn a good living. Those are core beliefs of our party, our caucus and the Delaware Senate.”