Cape Gazette
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Legislative Wrap

Jul 02, 2014

Bill fights human trafficking

A bill that enhances criminal penalties for those who engage in human trafficking and provides greater protections for victims of human trafficking was signed into law by the governor June 30.

Senate Bill 197 was introduced to the General Assembly April 10 and crafted by Senate Presi­dent Pro Tempore Patricia M. Blevins, D-Elsmere, and Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South, in cooperation with Attor­ney General Beau Biden’s office and the Uniform Law Commis­sion (ULC).

The bill sharpens the state’s provisions that penalize the criminal conduct – trafficking, forced labor, and sexual ser­vitude – at the core of human trafficking and punishes those who knowingly benefit by us­ing human-trafficking victims. Courts will be empowered to order that traffickers forfeit property used in or gained by trafficking.

The legislation provides the protections and remedies that human-trafficking victims – in­cluding child victims – need to recover and rebuild their lives.

The legislation creates a Hu­man Trafficking Coordinating Council to develop a compre­hensive anti-human-trafficking plan, evaluate data, effectuate in­teragency cooperation, and other important tasks. The council will be composed of representatives from the courts, prosecutors, Homeland Security, health care, victim services, and other agen­cies. The Delaware bill was based in part on the Uniform Act on the Prevention of and Remedies for Human Trafficking. The Uniform Act was drafted and approved by the Uniform Law Commission in 2013 and endorsed by the Ameri­can Bar Association’s House of Delegates in August 2013.

Bill creates special plate to help prevent abuse

A bill creating a Stop Child Abuse license plate has become law after being signed by the governor June 24.

The proceeds from House Bill 253, introduced March 13 by Rep. Melanie Smith, D-Bear/Newark, will go to the Protecting Dela­ware’s Children Fund. The initial fee is $50, including a $15 admin­istrative fee. Annual renewal will cost $40 in addition to the regular registration.

Bill helps veterans obtain licenses

A bill allowing professional licensing boards to recognize military education, training and experience when reviewing and issuing licenses is waiting for the governor’s signature after pass­ing through the Senate June 18.

House Bill 296, whose primary sponsor is Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, aims to assist service personnel and their spouses in obtaining and/or renewing professional licenses when tran­sitioning from active duty.

The bill allows boards to issue temporary licenses to service personnel who hold a valid li­cense from another state.

Bill subjects UD and DSU to FOIA laws

Legislation that treats Del­aware’s two public four-year universities as public bodies un­der the state’s open government laws passed through the Sen­ate June 30 after having passed through the House June 18.

House Bill 331, sponsored by Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, would remove an exemption in Delaware’s Freedom of Informa­tion Act for the University of Delaware and Delaware State University.

Previously, only the univer­sities’ boards of trustees are subject to FOIA, while the rest of the institutions’ activities, re­cords and meetings were exempt.

Bill doubles research and development credit

A bill that would double the research and development tax credit available to small busi­nesses awaits the governor’s signature after passing through the Senate June 26.

House Bill 318 would target  the credit toward startups and small companies by directing additional support to companies with less than $20 million in re­ceipts. These businesses would be eligible for a research and development tax credit of up to 100 percent of the correspond­ing federal credit, while large companies would continue to qualify for up to 50 percent. The legislation would not cost the state additional revenue because the total amount of state funding for the tax credit would remain at $5 million. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Small Business Committee.

Revitalization bill signed by governor

Legislation designed to spur urban redevelopment by allow­ing the creation of downtown development districts through­out Delaware was signed by Gov. Jack Markell June 5.

Senate Bill 191, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Marga­ret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, and Sens. Robert Marshall, D-Wilmington West, and Brian Bushweller, D-Dover, is one of the centerpieces of Markell’s agenda for the year.

Approved communities will compete for the districts, which would be reviewed by the Cabi­net Committee on State Planning Issues, which passes its recom­mendations to the governor. Initially, the governor could des­ignate up to three districts – one in each county. Ultimately, the bill allows for the creation of up to 15 districts. Qualified develop­ments in those districts could receive grants of up to 20 percent of the costs for interior, exterior and structural improvements. The measure also sets aside 30 percent of the state’s historic preservation tax credits for proj­ects in the districts.

Bill bans undetectable guns

Owning guns made to slip past metal detectors would lead to a two-year prison term under leg­islation introduced May 8.

Senate Bill 137, sponsored by Sen. Harris B. McDowell III, D-Wilmington North, defines undetectable firearms as weap­ons that don’t register on metal detectors or magnetometers if the grips, stocks and magazines are removed. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Public Safety Committee.

Bill protects digital assets after death

A bill that treats Delawareans’ digital legacies the same as the physical assets, documents and records left for their heirs and executors to handle after their deaths is waiting for the gov­ernor’s signature after having passed through both the Senate and the House June 30.

House Bill 345 was introduced by Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover, May 15 and makes digital assets such as email, cloud storage, social media, health records, content licenses, databases and more a part of a person’s estate upon death, and the entities who control access to those assets would be required to provide the legal executor with control over the deceased’s digital assets.

The legislation applies in cases where a person becomes inca­pacitated and his or her assets come under the control of a fiduciary or power of attorney.

HB 345 was reviewed and ap­proved by the Delaware State Bar Association, and would be the first comprehensive law of its kind in the nation.

Bill creates uniform deadlines for choice

Legislation aligning all school choice enrollment acceptance deadlines, allowing parents to weigh all school choice options for their children before making a final selection, was signed into law June 25.

House Bill 337, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshall­ton, requires all school choice enrollment deadlines for public school districts, charter schools, magnet schools, and career and technical education schools to line up, which would give par­ents uniformity and allow them to make decisions about which school their child will attend.

Parents whose child wishes to attend a different public, charter, magnet or vo-tech school would have to apply between the first Monday in November and the second Wednesday in January for the following school year.

The bill would set a uniform deadline of the third Friday in March for parents and students to notify the school if they accept the school choice enrollment offer.

Bill would further funding flexibility

A bill introduced May 29 by Rep. Darryl Scott, D-Dover, would allow school boards to raise their local tax rate by up to 3 percent per year without ref­erendum. House Bill 355 would revise a provision in current law that requires a school district to hold a successful public ref­erendum before its board may approve any tax increases to fund non-capital budget expen­ditures.

Larger increases and revenue enhancements for the purpos­es of funding capital projects, such as new school construction, would remain subject to refer­enda in all cases.

In the past 15 months, five Delaware school districts have sought incremental property tax rate increases to pay for operat­ing costs. Four of those districts saw their initial funding propos­als rejected by referendum.

The bill has been assigned to the House Revenue and Finance Committee.

Bill establishes numbered plates

Delawareans’ fascination with low-numbered license plates could soon be expanded to surf fishing vehicle plates under leg­islation that cleared the Senate June 26.

Sponsored by Rep. John Atkins, D-Millsboro, House Substitute 1 for House Bill 348 would al­low the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to issue numbered surf fishing vehicle plates and state park specialty vehicle plates. The park plate would serve as an an­nual permit.

Under the bill, DNREC could sell or auction the plates for a fee of up to $500. The program is voluntary, and regularly priced permits still would be available. An annual surf fishing permit costs $65, and a state park annual pass costs $27.

Bill allows driving on beach without fishing

A bill that would allow driving on Delaware’s beaches without surf fishing was introduced June 26. Senate Bill 265, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Sen. David McBride, D-Hawk’s Nest, would allow permit holders the option to not engage in surf fishing for safety reasons from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Currently, to drive and park on Delaware beaches, a vehicle must have a permit, and the opera­tor must be actively engaged in surf fishing. Surf fishing during the summer months would still be allowed. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Control Committee.

Bill looks to toughen felony traffic sentences

Legislation aimed at ensuring that repeat drunk drivers spend time behind bars was on the table in the Senate June 30 after being released from the Senate Execu­tive Committee June 25.

Sponsored by Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, House Bill 415 would ensure that felony traffic offenses – such as third and subsequent offenses of driv­ing under the influence – are covered by Delaware’s Truth in Sentencing statute. The bill was introduced June 17.

Traffic offenses are not cov­ered by Truth in Sentencing, which means that those con­victed could have their sentences modified by the Board of Parole. Crimes that fall under Truth in Sentencing are not under the board’s purview.

Bill requiring DUI interlock advances

A bill requiring all people convicted of driving under the influence to install ignition in­terlock devices in the vehicles they drive is waiting for the governor’s signature after pass­ing through the Senate June 30. House Substitute 1 for House Bill 212 builds on a 2011 law that increased penalties for multiple DUIs and required ignition in­terlock devices for all offenders with a blood alcohol concentra­tion of 0.15 or more.

The new bill would require all DUI offenders to install devices in their vehicles. It also requires the use of the device for a mini­mum of four months for a first offense. The measure will have a fiscal impact for the upcoming budget year of $252,400. This amount accounts for salary costs for three new employees and one­time system upgrades to administer the program.

Bill offers offenders treatment option

Legislation aimed at helping problem drinkers get their licens­es back, if they plead guilty to driving under the influence and complete an intensive alcohol treatment, waits for the gov­ernor’s signature after passing through the House June 30. Sen­ate Bill 260 would be limited to 50 participants at any one time. The program would include the installation of alcohol­detecting ignition interlock devices on their cars if they seek condi­tional driving privileges; strict supervision; and aids, such as anti­alcohol skin patches. People who successfully complete the program could have their jail time suspended and licenses reinstated. SB 260 is aimed at repeat DUI offenders who show potential for help through treat­ment if made law.

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