DOVER – A series of bills crafted to address a host of issues that impact Delaware women every day in their workplaces, doctors’ offices, homes and schools were signed into law Tuesday.
The six bills are part of a bipartisan 11-bill package announced in March that focuses on three major areas where reform is needed for Delaware women: justice and public safety, health care and employment. The wide-ranging package is a list of the top priorities for change and revision to state laws that impact women.
House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst lauded the work of the women legislators and their male counterparts to pass these bills.
“Women in our state and across the nation continue to face numerous inequities and challenges simply because of their gender. As more and more women serve as the breadwinners in their families and heads of households, these inequities have reverberating impacts on women and their families,” Rep. Longhurst said.
“Delaware women have spoken up about the challenges they have faced in the workplace and in the criminal justice system. It was for those reasons that we came together to do something to improve the lives of women throughout Delaware. I can stand here today and say that Delaware is a better place for women because of these bills.”
The six bills signed into law are:
- HB 2 - Requires ongoing sexual assault training for police officers and prosecutors
- HB 3 - Requires employers receiving state contracts to offer employees equal pay for equal work
- HB 4 - Protects employees by guaranteeing them the right to take leave based on circumstances of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault
- SJR 1 - Requires all law enforcement, hospitals, etc. to report untested and unsubmitted sexual assault kits and date of collection
- SB 51 - Allows victims to provide court testimony remotely, with a judge’s permission
- SB 84 - Exempts breastfeeding women from jury duty
“Our goal is to ensure future generations are able to live healthier and go further than those before them and this package of legislation supports that effort,” said Governor Markell. “It’s clear that our laws can do more to ensure women have the opportunities and protections they deserve and I want to thank members of General Assembly for addressing these key areas.”
A seventh bill, which requires the listing of Title IX coordinators for every public school, including public institutions of higher learning, was signed into law earlier this session.
“This package of bills represents a collaborative effort by men and women from both houses and both sides of the aisle to make some real strides in improving the health, safety and economic equality of women in Delaware,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins.
The remaining bills in the package will carry over to the second half of the 148th General Assembly, which will continue in January 2016.
Below is a listing of the seven bills signed into law and a detailed description:
- House Bill 2: Sexual Assault Training for Law Enforcement
Out of nearly 600 hours of required minimum training, Delaware police officers typically receive only eight hours of training on domestic violence and just four hours on sex crimes. Under this bill, new police officers would receive victim-centered, trauma-informed and offender-focused sexual assault training. Current officers would receive the training in a window of time after enactment of the bill, and all officers would be required to retrain periodically. Prosecutors also would receive training.
Sponsors: Reps. Keeley and Longhurst and Sen. Poore
- Senate Bill 51: Remote Testimony
This legislation would allow, at a judge’s discretion, for a victim or witness to appear at required court proceedings and give testimony via secured video connection from a separate location.
Sponsors: Sen. Peterson and Rep. Bennett
- Senate Joint Resolution 1: Statewide Rape Kit Audit
This Joint Resolution would mandate that the Department of Justice oversee an audit of all untested and un-submitted sexual assault kits in Delaware. This resolution also establishes a work group tasked with creating systemic changes to ensure proper testing of all sexual assault kits in the future.
Sponsors: Sens. Poore, Henry, Blevins and McDowell and Reps. Heffernan and Hudson
- House Bill 81: Title IX Coordinator Listing
This bill would add to the existing Education Profile reports compiled by the state Department of Education the name and contact information for a federal Title IX coordinator for every public school, including public institutions of higher learning. The Title IX coordinator’s responsibilities include hearing reports of sexual discrimination and misconduct and advising students of their rights and courses of action.
Sponsors: Rep. Smith and Sen. Sokola
- House Bill 4: Safety Leave
Similar to bills enacted in Illinois, New York and Rhode Island, this legislation would protect employees by guaranteeing them the right to take leave based on circumstances of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault and specifying that taking such leave is not grounds for termination or discrimination.
Sponsors: Rep. Bolden and Sen. Blevins
- House Bill 3: Equal Pay for Equal Work in State Contracting
This measure would mandate that any company awarded a state contract certify that it engages in fair wage practices and will provide its employees with equal pay for equal work, regardless of gender.
Sponsors: Rep. Longhurst and Sen. Poore
- Senate Bill 84: Breastfeeding Accommodations for Jury Duty
Mirroring 16 other states, this bill would allow mothers who are currently breastfeeding their children to have their jury service postponed by the courts.
Sponsors: Sen. Henry and Rep. Bolden