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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate Sends Three Justice Reform Bills To Gov. John Carney

June 28, 2022

DOVER – Continuing its work to provide second chances while raising transparency and accountability among law enforcement, the Delaware Senate on Tuesday sent three justice reform bills to Governor John Carney for his signature.

Sen. Marie Pinkney served as prime Senate sponsor of all three measures, which would strengthen Delaware’s hate crime statute, protect children from deceptive interrogation techniques, expand health care for new or expectant mothers in state prisons, and provide second chances to more formerly justice-involved people seeking jobs in licensed career fields.

“Each of these bills represents another critical step in our ongoing work to create a safer, fairer and more equitable justice system for all Delawareans,” said Sen. Pinkney, who chairs the Senate Corrections & Public Safety Committee. “This legislation will enhance outcomes and trust in police investigations, improve how we treat people in custody and provide people leaving our justice system with new opportunities for second chances. I want to thank my co-sponsors Reps. Melissa Minor-Brown and Eric Morrison for advancing these bills and my colleagues in the Senate for continuing our mission to place redemption ahead of retribution.”

Sponsored by Sen. Pinkney and Rep. Eric Morrison in 2021, Senate Bill 144 would modernize Delaware’s hate crime statute by making clear that such offenses include instances motivated in whole or in part by the perpetrator’s belief or perception of a victim’s minority status, regardless of whether that belief is accurate.

The bill also would add sex and age as protected categories, establish civil remedies for victims of hate crimes and require the Division of Civil Rights and Public Trust to post the number and nature of hate crimes committed in Delaware on their website at least once a year.

“The updates made to Delaware’s hate crimes statutes by SB 144 are vital and could not come at a more appropriate time. In the last few years, the number of hate crimes in Delaware and across the nation has risen sharply,” Rep. Morrison said. “As a member of Delaware’s LGBTQ+ community with friends who have been victims of hate crimes, this legislation is personal to me.”

Originally passed by the Senate in June 2021, an amended version of SB 144 was passed by the House last week. Tuesday’s vote in the Senate adopts the amendment to the final version of the bill being sent to Gov. Carney.

“Hate crimes are on the rise nationally, and the data shows that the same is true in Delaware. When someone commits a hate crime it doesn’t just hurt one person: it tells every member of that community that — for no reason except the circumstance of their birth, the language they speak, or the way they worship — they could face harassment, violence, or worse,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said. “Modernizing our state’s hate crime statute recognizes these crimes for what they are, closes loopholes, and gives prosecutors the tools to charge these crimes fully and appropriately. I’m extremely grateful to Sen. Pinkney and Rep. Morrison for advancing the cause of civil rights and equal justice in Delaware.”

Sponsored by Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown and Sen. Pinkney in May, House Bill 419 would bar all Delaware law enforcement officers from using deceptive tactics while interrogating minors in their custody. Those tactics prohibited by the bill would include knowingly communicating false statements about evidence or making false or misleading promises of leniency.

Under the bill, any statement elicited from a minor in violation of the law would be deemed inadmissible in juvenile delinquency or criminal court proceedings.

“It can be really difficult to understand why a person would wrongly confess to a crime they did not commit but the reality is-those confessions exist especially with children. An interrogation room can feel scary and intimidating,” said Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, D-New Castle. “This bill builds confidence and trust in a system that has done harm to many people for far too long. We must continue to revisit past practices, improve transparency by recording interrogations so evidence cannot be disputed, and move ahead to advance justice in Delaware.”

Sponsored by Rep. Minor-Brown and Sen. Pinkney in May, House Bill 404 would allow formerly justice-involved people greater access to professionals and occupations licensed by the state.

Also known as the Delaware Fair Chance Licensing Act, the bill would require that various state-run licensing boards use convictions as a disqualifier only if the underlying offense is substantially related to profession or occupation or if issuing a license would create an unreasonable risk to public safety.

The bill also creates a process for people to determine in advance whether their prior criminal history would disqualify them from holding a certain license, requires the licensing agency to provide a written statement to an applicant and permits the applicant to submit material to rebut a disqualification.

HB 404 builds off of previous work by the General Assembly to expand access to adult expungements and modify the impact a criminal history has on an applicant’s eligibility to become a licensed electrician, plumber, HVAC technician, and massage therapist

“A professional license is a gateway to a stable livelihood for people from all walks of life, including those who have had contact with the criminal justice system,” Rep. Minor-Brown said. “This legislation ensures that those Delawareans have a fair chance to pursue training and education, gain licensure in their chosen profession, and secure a prosperous future for themselves and their families.”