Criminal Justice Reform Legislation Moves Through House

DOVER – Legislation that would break down barriers to employment, reduce the ability to stack charges, help youth rehabilitate and overhaul significant portions of the criminal justice code cleared significant hurdles in the House of Representatives during the past two weeks.

Part of an ambitious criminal justice package announced earlier this year, these bills will help incarcerated individuals – adults and youth – move past their criminal record and ensure that our judges have discretion to make the best sentencing decisions for each individual rather than applying a one-size-fits-all standard to all offenders.

Tuesday, the House passed House Bill 124. Sponsored by Rep. Ed Osienski and Sen. Jack Walsh, the measure would help those who have made a mistake in their past obtain a license as a plumber or HVAC technician. It would modify the impact an applicant's criminal history would have on their eligibility to obtain a license. It gives the licensing board discretion to waive some of those convictions, making them eligible to pursue their new job.

Additionally, four juvenile justice bills cleared the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday, impacting children in all aspects of their lives:

  • Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Laura Sturgeon and Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, would make clear that possession or consumption of alcohol by an individual under 21 years of age is a civil offense. It also would prohibit including information concerning a civil violation of the underage possession or consumption law on an individual’s certified criminal record.
  • House Substitute 1 for House Bill 10, sponsored by Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, would prohibit the prosecution of any child under the age of 12 and bar transferring a juvenile prosecution to the Superior Court unless the child is aged 16 or older, with the exception of first and second degree murder and rape.
  • House Substitute 1 for House Bill 75, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden and Sen. Lockman, would clarify that any child under 18 years old who is adjudicated in Superior Court will serve the initial portion of their incarceration until age 18 in the custody of the Department of Services for Children, Youth and their Families.
  • House Bill 76, sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan and Sen. Bryan Townsend, would require the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families to have exclusive jurisdiction over all aspects of a child’s care, custody and control when a child is convicted of a Superior Court offense.

A fifth bill, Senate Bill 43, was released from the House Sunset Committee on Wednesday. Sponsored by Sen. Walsh and Rep. Osienski, the bill would modify the impact of criminal history on an applicant’s eligibility for licensure by the Board of Electrical Examiners.

House Bill 5, sponsored by Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Nicole Poore, passed the House with bipartisan support last week and is in the Senate for consideration. The bill reforms concurrent and consecutive sentencing by providing sentencing judges with the discretion to sentence prison time concurrently when appropriate. Balancing public safety, it leaves the most egregious crimes in the code as mandatory consecutive sentences.

In total, of the 17 bills that have been filed, seven have passed one chamber, and nine others have been released from their initial committee and await action in the originating chamber.

The 150th General Assembly will recess after June 30, but reconvene in January 2020. Bills that have not been passed by the end of session this year will still be active for consideration in 2020.

The other bills are as follows:

  • House Bill 4, the James Johnson Sentencing Reform Act, named after the former state representative who dedicated his legislative career to criminal justice reform also cleared committee this June. (Released from House committee) HB 4 would:
    • Remove all Title 16 drug offenses from being designated as “violent felonies,” so they would no longer be subject to the enhanced charging and sentencing provisions as violent crimes.
    • Expand the ability to modify sentences for conditional release based on the rehabilitation of the offender, serious medical illness or infirmity, or prison overcrowding.
    • Establish the Sentencing Accountability and Guidelines Commission, which would replace SENTAC as it is currently constituted.
  • House Bill 7, sponsored by Rep. Minor-Brown and Sen. Walsh, would modify the impact of criminal history on an applicant’s eligibility for licensure by the Board of Massage and Bodywork. (Released from House committee)
  • House Bill 8, sponsored by Rep. Sean Matthews and Sen. Lockman, would establish the Ex-Offender Employment Opportunity Tax Credit that offers a tax credit to employers for hiring qualified ex-offenders in an amount equal to 10% of that individual’s wages, with a maximum credit of $1,500. (Released from House committee)
  • Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 37, sponsored by Sen. Darius Brown and Rep. Sean Lynn, would expand the availability of expungement for adult criminal records of arrest and conviction. (Passed Senate, released from House committee)
  • Senate Bill 41, sponsored by Sen. Brown and Rep. Gerald Brady, would establish that the age of offense, not the age of arrest, determines jurisdiction for a young person facing charges. (Passed Senate, in House committee)
  • Senate Bill 47, sponsored by Sen. Lockman and Rep. Lynn, would simplify Delaware’s drug code with a goal of providing more fairness in its application. It would remove geographic-based enhancements that disproportionately impact those living in urban areas as opposed to suburban and rural areas. The bill reduces the number of weight tiers from five to three with adjustments to accompanying sentences while retaining higher felony levels for weights that indicate drug dealing. (Passed Senate, released from House committee)
  • Senate Bill 39, sponsored by Sen. Brown and Rep. Krista Griffith, would prohibit a court from suspending a driver’s license for nonpayment of a fine, fee, cost, assessment, or restitution. It also would prohibit a court from imposing an additional fee on a defendant for payments that are made at designated periodic intervals or late, or when probation is ordered to supervise a defendant’s payment. (In Senate committee)
  • House Bill 77, sponsored by Rep. Bolden and Sen. David Sokola, would simplify the burglary code to eliminate duplication by combining the burglary and home invasion sections and to align minimum mandatory sentences. (Released from House committee)
  • House Bill 78, sponsored by Rep. Bolden and Sen. Sokola, would simplify the robbery code to eliminate duplication. It combines the robbery and carjacking sections while preserving enhancements recognizing the seriousness of carjacking. (Released from House committee)
  • Senate Bill 45, sponsored by Sen. Trey Paradee and Rep. Franklin Cooke, would make the possession, use, or consumption of a personal use quantity of marijuana a civil violation for juveniles. (Released from Senate committee)