Governor signs gender identity bill
Gov. Jack Markell signed legislation June 19 to protect transgender people from discrimination based on their gender identity.
Senate Bill 97 adds gender identity to the existing list of prohibited practices of discrimination and hate crimes. It will forbid discrimination in the areas of housing, employment, public works contracting, public accommodations and insurance.
The House passed the bill 24-17, June 18, with an amendment to the bill defining gender identity.
Rep. Bryon Short, D-Brandywine Hundred, the bill’s lead sponsor in the House, proposed the amendment, which clarifies that gender identity may be demonstrated by “consistent and uniform assertion” of the person’s identity or other evidence that it is part of their core identity. The amendment also states gender identity shall not be asserted for any improper use.
Short’s amendment also allows public establishments to provide “reasonable accommodations” on the basis of gender identity in areas where disrobing is likely.
The Senate passed the amended bill 11-9 June 19. Markell signed the legislation shortly thereafter.
Lawmakers pass workers’ compensation reform
Delaware’s General Assembly approved efforts to reduce costs to businesses June 20. The Workers’ Compensation Task Force worked for four months to address increases in Delaware’s workers’ compensation premiums over the past two years. The task force’s recommendations are designed to reduce costs for Delaware businesses, so that those businesses can better compete with businesses in neighboring states and employ more Delawareans.
House Bill 175 passed the Senate unanimously. The legislation passed the House unanimously June 6.
Lt. Gov. Matt Denn, chairman of Delaware’s Workers’ Compensation Task Force, said, “These changes will make a real difference in Delaware in helping people return to work more quickly and efficiently.”
The task force was created Jan. 30 and charged with an expedited review of Delaware law relating to workers’ compensation, the impact that 2007 amendments to the law had on premiums, the reasons for recent increases and whether any changes to statutes, regulations or practices were required to control growth in premiums.
The task force concluded that a number of statutory and regulatory changes were required in order to avoid significant future increases.
The task force concluded that amendments made in 2007 and subsequent regulatory work done by the Health Care Advisory Panel had initially been effective in controlling premiums and ensuring that injured workers have access to qualified doctors to treat workplace injuries. The task force’s recommendations focus on revisions and improvements to the 2007 statute. To read the legislation, go to legis.delaware.gov.
House passes bill to toughen penalties for criminals with guns
A measure drafted by the Attorney General’s Office to deter illegal possession of firearms by criminals who are prohibited from possessing guns passed the House 40-1 June 19.
House Bill 73 was introduced by Rep. Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere, a retired New Castle County Police sergeant. “People who already have been convicted of violent felonies and decide to illegally possess a firearm should face mandatory jail time,” Mitchell said. “Law enforcement works hard to get illegal firearms off our streets, and this is an additional tool to get both guns and criminals off our streets.”
Under current law, juvenile adjudications do not count as convictions that would trigger minimum jail sentences if they are later convicted of a gun offense. Under HB 73, those juvenile adjudications would trigger minimum mandatory jail sentences of one year if the offender is previously convicted of a violent felony; three years if the offender committed a previous violent felony within 10 years; and five years if the offender was previously convicted of two or more violent felonies.
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Legislation to allow police to unionize awaits final vote
A bill to allow small-town police to unionize is headed to the House for a final vote.
The Delaware Police Officers’ and Firefighters’ Employment Relations Act grants police officers and firefighters the right to organize and bargain collectively. To date, the act applies to public employers who have at least 25 employees.
If passed by the Senate, House Bill 81 would amend the requirement threshold to just three full-time employees. Many Sussex County municipalities would be affected, including Dewey Beach, Milton, Fenwick Island, South Bethany and Dagsboro.
The bill was approved by the House 24-14 May 2 and released from the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee June 12.
Legislation would combat prescription drug abuse
A bill developed by the Attorney General’s Office to strengthen Delaware’s prescription monitoring efforts passed the Senate June 18.
Untitled Document Senate Bill 119 was introduced by two legislators who work as nurses: Sen. Bethany Hall Long, D-Middletown, and Rep. Rebecca Walker, D-Middletown. According to the Attorney General’s Office, an increasing numbers of addicts are turning to emergency rooms and urgent care clinics to obtain narcotics.
SB 119 would limit all medical facilities except licensed pharmacies from dispensing more than a 72-hour supply of a controlled substance to patients. The bill would also require dispensers to enter any prescription of a controlled substance into the PMP, just as pharmacies are currently required to do, and require the Department of Health and Social Services to establish a uniform protocol to guide caregivers regarding the proper disposal of controlled substances upon a patient’s death. Hospice care providers would assist family members and caregivers to inventory and dispose of a patient’s remaining supply of controlled substances upon that patient’s death.
Attorney General Beau Biden said the bill is a crucial step toward battling the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse. The bill now heads to the House for consideration.
Markell signs bill to improve teacher preparation
Gov. Jack Markell signed legislation June 12 that raises the bar for entering the teaching profession in Delaware. Senate Bill 51 improves teacher training, requires prospective teachers to complete a rigorous assessment and tracks performance of all preparation programs in the state.
“Growing Delaware in this fast-moving economy depends on having an education system that prepares our students to out-compete and out-innovate their peers around the world,” Markell said. “The research on how we tap into the talents of Delaware’s future workforce is clear – teacher quality is the single most important school factor in a student’s academic success.”
The legislation establishes higher-quality student teaching experiences, ongoing evaluation of prospective teachers and specific literacy and math instruction geared to the needs of elementary school teachers. In addition, Delaware’s new teachers will have to pass assessments of their content knowledge and performance before licensure.
Bill to require reporting of lost, stolen guns becomes law
Gun owners must report missing or stolen weapons to police within a week under legislation that was signed by Gov. Jack Markell June 12.
Under Senate Bill 16, the seven-day clock on reporting a missing or stolen firearm would start running when a gun owner discovers a weapon is missing. The bill’s supporters say it is intended to curb straw purchases.
“Finally, we have given our law enforcement officers a useful and practical tool to address a dangerous practice that has allowed firearms to get into the wrong hands,” Markell said. “Combined with our efforts to require background checks for private sales, we have made great strides this year toward making our communities safer.”
First offenders face misdemeanor charges and a maximum fine of $100; a second offense carries a maximum $250 fine and repeat offenders face felony charges.
The bill is part of a package of gun-control measurers proposed Jan. 14 by Markell, Lt. Gov. Matt Denn and Attorney General
Untitled Document Beau Biden, one month after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
Bill would impact unemployment insurance
Delaware businesses would pay dramatically higher costs for unemployment insurance if the General Assembly does not pass a bill to address the insurance trust fund.
House Bill 168 targets structural problems associated with the Delaware Unemployment Trust Fund, which is financed by a tax on employers to pay temporary benefits to Delawareans who lose their jobs. The bill establishes a one-week waiting period to claim unemployment insurance benefits and increases the taxable wage base from its current level of $10,500. The taxable wage base would instead be based on the balance of the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund as of Sept. 30 of the preceding calendar year. The higher the fund balance, the lower the taxable wage base.
The fund depleted in 2010 because the economic recession caused a hike in claims for benefits. In March 2010, the state borrowed federal money to keep the benefits flowing. The state has since been paying off the federal loan, but Delaware still owes $71.5 million. Under terms of the loan, if it is not repaid by 2015, federal unemployment taxes paid by Delaware employers will dramatically escalate.
HB 168 says any loan of state funds to repay loans from the federal government would be repaid from unemployment insurance tax receipts.
State officials say the total tax cost to employers under the bill would be $334.50 per employee over three years. If nothing was done, and the higher federal taxes were imposed, the cost would be nearly twice that amount – $598.50 – over the same period.
The bill passed the House unanimously June 6 and was released from the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee June 13. HB 168 awaits a final vote in the Senate.