Slate of Bills Advances the Cause of Women in Delaware

DOVER – A coalition of women legislators in the General Assembly today unveiled an 11-bill package crafted to address a host of issues that impact Delaware women every day in their workplaces, doctors’ offices, homes and schools. Collectively, the bills are sponsored and cosponsored by every female lawmaker in Dover, from both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate.

The legislation 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 will sponsor or co-sponsor bills to strengthen sexual assault reporting on college campuses, mandate broader sexual assault training for Delaware law enforcement officers and mandate that any company who receives a state contract will provide equal pay for equal work for their employees, regardless of their gender.

“We are increasingly seeing that women are the breadwinners in their families and heads of households. In Delaware, women represent more than half of our workforce, but unfortunately there are several areas where we as a state lag behind in protecting women and providing them with the same opportunities as their male counterparts,” said Rep. Longhurst, D-Bear.

“After months of research and collaboration, we’ve come up with a very clear list of things we need to do to improve the lives of women across our state. This package of bills represents an effort to address issues that affect women’s health, their employment and their safety. This is a united, bipartisan effort among all the women in the House and Senate. I’m proud that we’ve come together to put these issues front-and-center, and I’m very hopeful that we’ll be able to have these bills signed into law during this two-year session.”

Senate President Pro Tem Patricia Blevins will sponsor three of the bills, including measures addressing advocate confidentiality and providing safety leave for victims.

“The breadth of issues affecting Delaware’s women is significant and this legislative effort acknowledges that,” said. “These bills represent a collaborative effort to make some real progress in the areas of women’s health, safety and economic equality.”

Individual bills in the package will be filed in both chambers over the course of the next several legislative days.

 

Justice and Public Safety

  • Safety on college campuses, sexual assault reporting
    Mimicking rules enacted in the wake of the Earl Bradley cases, this bill would require universities to follow mandatory reporting procedures for sexual assaults to law enforcement. Sexual assaults disclosed to university employees in positions of trust are currently required to be reported to a Title IX coordinator. This bill would expand that existing reporting requirement to include the Department of Justice and appropriate police agencies. The bill would improve data disclosure and monitoring by requiring the Department of Justice to provide annual sexual assault statistics. Universities would be required to train their staff on their mandatory reporting responsibilities. Sexual assault victim advocates, professional counselors and clergy are exempted from law enforcement reporting requirements.
    Sponsors: Reps. Williams and Longhurst and Sen. Peterson
  • 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.
    Sponsors: Reps. Keeley and Longhurst and Sen. Poore
  • Advocate Confidentiality
    Delaware is one of only four states with no law addressing a victim’s confidentiality with a counselor or advocate in a case of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. This bill would state that counselors and advocates may not disclose certain victim communications without written consent.
    Sponsors: Rep. Bennett and Sen. Blevins
  • 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
  • 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 videoconference from a separate location.
    Sponsors: Sen. Peterson and Rep. Bennett
  • 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

Employment

  • Family Leave for Public Employees
    This bill would make full time public employees eligible for 12 weeks of maternity or paternity leave after one year of employment. New parents would be eligible for leave for up to one year after the birth of the child.
    Sponsors: Rep. Heffernan and Sen. McDowell
  • 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
  • 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

Health Care

  • 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
  • Postpartum Depression Resources and Education
    Delaware’s Department of Health and Social Services currently has a broad network for the identification and treatment of postpartum depression, including a list of service organizations across the state. However, this list is not available for doctors to distribute to patients. This legislation would require physicians to educate prenatal patients and families on the warning signs and symptoms of postpartum depression.
    Sponsors: Sen. Hall-Long and Rep. Longhurst