The Leg Hall Insider: April 26, 2013

Marriage Equality Passes House

Rep. Valerie Longhurst, Lisa Goodman, Mark Purpura, Rep. Heffernan, Drew Fennell, Rep. Dennis Williams, Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden and Rep. Paul Baumbach celebrate passage of House Bill 75.

The House of Representatives passed legislation Tuesday that would make Delaware the 11th state to establish marriage equality.

House Bill 75, which passed the House 23-18, would establish civil marriage equality for all Delaware families by allowing same-sex couples to marry. Under the bill, same-sex married couples would have the same rights, protections, responsibilities and obligations as opposite-sex married persons under Delaware law. Same-sex couples would be able to apply for marriage licenses from the clerks of the peace.

House sponsor Rep. Melanie George Smith said the legislation is about freedom, fairness and equality. The freedom to marry the person you love, she said, is a basic, fundamental right that should not be denied to anyone.

HB 75 now goes to the Senate for consideration. Read the full release here.

Legislation to Keep Guns Off School Property Released from Committee

The House Education Committee released legislation Wednesday that would establish “safe school zones” and create a new crime for those who carry a firearm or destructive weapon in those areas.

Sponsored by Rep. Darryl M. Scott and Sen. David P. Sokola, chairs of the House and Senate Education Committees, House Bill 67  is one of the five proposals Gov. Markell, Lt. Gov. Denn and Attorney General Biden announced in January to reduce gun violence and better protect children. The bill would ban the possession of firearms or destructive weapons in schools and on school property. A person possessing those weapons would be charged with a class D felony, which is punishable by up to eight years in prison.

Rep. Scott said some people might be shocked to know there is currently no prohibition in Delaware law for walking onto school property and openly carrying a firearm. More than 35 other states already restrict firearms on school property, including Florida, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The ban only applies to schools, school buses and school property. It does not apply to firearms that are in motor vehicles on school property when the driver is at a legitimate school function.

HB 67 now heads to the House for a full vote.

Barbieri Introduces Bill to Keep Mentally Ill from Possessing Guns

A licensed social worker who has worked in the mental health field for more than 30 years, Rep. Michael Barbieri is sponsoring legislation introduced this week by Attorney General Beau Biden to keep firearms out of the hands of people prohibited from owning them. State and federal law spells out several specific categories of people who are not allowed to possess firearms due to serious mental illnesses. The measure would expand the mental health prohibition to include those deemed by a court to be “a danger to themselves or others,” those found guilty but mentally ill or not guilty by reason of insanity and those found incompetent to stand trial.

House Bill 88 also would create a responsibility for mental health professionals to notify law enforcement if in their professional opinion they believe a patient is a danger to themselves or others.

The bill has been assigned to the House Health and Human Development Committee.

Williams Bill Would Update School Choice Program

Rep. Kimberly Williams introduced legislation this week providing the first sustentative update to Delaware’s school choice program in 15 years, standardizing the process and helping parents better understand and navigate the system. The bill was released from committee on Wednesday.

The school choice program enables students to attend a school different from their feeder school, whether it is a charter school, a vocational technical school, a different school in the same district or a school in a different district. Currently, Delaware school districts set their own school choice parameters with different criteria and forms for interested students and parents.

A former Red Clay Consolidated School District board member, Rep. Williams said it is important that school districts provide school choice for students, but she knows the process of applying to attend a different school is confusing and challenging.

House Bill 90, which was released from the House Education Committee this week, would create a uniform system across the state and would make the process easier for parents to navigate by:

  • Standardizing application forms and deadlines across traditional, vocational technical and charter schools;
  • Creating the option for parents to submit information through the Department of Education website and requiring districts to hold public information sessions;
  • Eliminating discrimination against choice students by requiring districts to use the same standards for choice students as they do for students in their attendance zone;
  • Eliminating discrimination against students with special educational needs;
  • Specifying the criteria that may be used in reporting capacity and requiring districts to accept choice students until they are at 85 percent of capacity;
  • Creating a task force to explore enrollment preferences at magnet, vocational technical and charter schools and developing recommendations as necessary.

Currently, one out of four Delaware students utilizes some form of school choice. Approximately 10 percent choose schools in their current district, eight percent choose charter schools, five percent choose vocational technical schools and four percent choose schools in different districts.

Delaware National Guard Visits Leg Hall

Representatives from the Delaware National Guard visited Leg Hall this week to meet with legislators. Before members of the guard met with their local representatives, Rep. Earl Jaques, a retired Delaware National Guard general, spoke with the group to go over the members’ legislative priorities.

Legislative Wrap-Up

The following bills passed the House of Representatives this week:

HS 1 for HB 41 (Jaques) – Forbids the possession, sale, offer for sale and distribution of shark fins in the State of Delaware.