Bipartisan amendment would end late-night session

Passes House, now moves to Senate
May 22, 2022

An amendment to the Delaware Constitution to eliminate a late-night session at the end of the General Assembly session heads to the Senate for approval after receiving bipartisan support in the House.

Under current law, the regular session of the General Assembly begins each calendar year on the second Tuesday in January and closes on the last day of June. However, to preserve its privilege to call itself back into session later in the year if needed, the General Assembly must meet at midnight June 30 and vote to commence a special session July 1.

This interpretation of the Constitution has resulted in a long standing tradition for lawmakers to meet and conduct business into the wee hours of the morning July 1, sometimes until after dawn. Even during the pandemic, the House and Senate met virtually in brief session shortly before midnight June 30, entering into a special session July 1.

Sponsored by Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, House Bill 411 would amend the Delaware Constitution to change the time for the end of the legislative session from 11:59 p.m., June 30, to 5 p.m., June 30. 

The change would allow the House and Senate to reconvene in special session immediately after 5 p.m., not midnight, and still preserve their privilege to meet later in the year.

“For years, we have heard the concerns about these late-night sessions from the public and our fellow legislators alike. While the practice is rooted in the traditions of Legislative Hall, it is far from an ideal way to do the people’s business,” Schwartzkopf said. “These marathon session days do not promote transparency in government, and they also result in legislators, staff and members of the public driving home late at night after a very long day, which is just not safe. By changing the time for the end of the regular session, we will be promoting transparency and ending a tradition that no longer makes good sense.”

Legislators typically secure passage of key bills June 30 before a six-month recess, but in even-numbered years there is a sense of urgency to pass some bills, since legislation that does not pass expires with the convening of a new General Assembly after Election Day.

“There is no good purpose served by the General Assembly working legislation late into the night on the last day of the session,” said House Minority Whip Tim Dukes, R-Laurel. “This reform is long overdue and I’m glad it appears to have the traction needed to move forward. If successful, it will be a change for the better.”

Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber and must be approved by two consecutive General Assemblies. If HB 411 passes this year during the 151st General Assembly, an identical bill must be introduced and passed during the 152nd General Assembly, which runs from 2023-24.

“Having both chambers end session past midnight June 30/July 1 is an archaic practice that is dangerous for the public, staff and members of the General Assembly,” said Senate Republican Whip Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown. “The late-night hours hinder transparency and discourage public participation. This common-sense change is long overdue.”

HB 411 passed the House May 12 by 38 votes with three absent. It moved out of Senate Executive Committee May 18.

Grooming bill introduced

A bill that would expand an existing bill requiring training for educators in order to prevent sexual abuse and grooming has been introduced in the Senate.

Senate Bill 290 would expand Erin’s Law, a 2016 law that requires all public schools to train employees and educate students about personal body safety, sexual abuse and how to maintain appropriate interactions between children and adults, including coaches and volunteers. SB 290 would require training to include discussions about “grooming” acts by adults to build trust and access to children for the purpose of engaging in sexual contact, officials said.

Senate sponsor Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, said the bill isn’t about homophobic attacks on those in the LGBTQ+ community, but intended for adults who take very methodical actions to build relationships of trust that they can eventually abuse.

Under SB 290, she said, training for school staff would be required to include instruction on skills and policies for how to prevent inappropriate sexual misconduct, establish appropriate adult and student interactions, and detect warning signs of inappropriate interactions. Schools would be required to make similar information available to parents, including information on counseling and other resources. Age-appropriate instruction for students also would be expanded from students in prekindergarten through sixth grade to all grade levels.

SB 290 moved out of committee and awaits action in the Senate.

Bill would require district policy on inappropriate relationships

A bill that would require school districts and charter schools to develop policy on inappropriate relationships between students and educators has been introduced in the Senate.

Senate Bill 291, sponsored by Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, would require each school district and charter school to adopt a policy regarding appropriate and inappropriate relationships between students and school employees, contractors, coaches and volunteers. 

The policy must include the procedure for notifying the Delaware Department of Education and police of suspected adult sexual misconduct; details regarding preferred and prohibited methods of electronic communication between adults and students; a statement that substantiated incidents of sexual misconduct will be reported in future reference checks for employment and volunteer work; and the development of hiring practices to screen for adult sexual misconduct.

SB 291 moved out of committee and awaits action in the Senate.

Bill seeks to expand state sexual extortion law

The Senate unanimously passed a bill May 19 that would expand sexual extortion law to include threats.

Senate Bill 289, sponsored by Sen. Nicole Poore, D-New Castle, would expand the law to include threats meant to compel or induce another person to produce a visual depiction of themselves or someone else in a sexual situation or threats to distribute or otherwise disseminate such depictions.

The bill now awaits action in the House.


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