In the wee hours of July 1, 2014, the 147th General Assembly completed the business of their two year term. Although many laws that will increase incarceration were enacted, if we step back and look at all of the Assembly’s accomplishments, we see that overall the rights and freedoms of Delawareans were advanced.
LGBT marriage equality and transgender protection against discrimination became law, voting rights for some people with felony convictions were restored, juvenile life without parole was eliminated as a mandatory sentence and judges were given discretion regarding placing juveniles on the sex offender registry for low-level offenses. Some of the significant advances this year included:
- “Ban the Box” legislation (HB 167), which prohibits public employers from asking about felony convictions at the first stage of a job application;
- Accomodations and protection from employment discrimination for pregnant women (SB 212);
- Judicial discretion to impose concurrent sentences in some situations (HB 312). This law brought Delaware in line with the other 49 states and the federal government; and
- A Senate Joint Resolution (SJR 9) that allows the state to opt out of a federal mandate to suspend the driver’s license of anyone convicted of a drug offense.
Much good legislation stalled and will need to be reintroduced next year. This included death penalty repeal (SB 19), same day voter registration (HB 105), bills that would loosen the requirements for absentee and early voting (HB 20 and HB 191) and one that would make it easier for juveniles to have minor offenses expunged from court records (SB 233).
Regrettably, increasing mandatory minimums, reducing bail opportunities and expanding the criminal code were extremely popular with both Democrats and Republicans. More than a hundred bills along these lines were passed or introduced in both chambers.
From a civil liberties perspective, the so-called “revenge porn” legislation (HB 260) was perhaps the most alarming example of this trend. This bill (now law) criminalized sharing legally obtained nude images without the subject’s express permission—groundbreaking legislation at the nexus of free speech and privacy. Deliberate acts of this kind that intend harm are undoubtedly criminal behavior, but HB 260 was written so broadly that it will also criminalize clearly established constitutional free speech. ACLU-DE argued long and hard to improve HB 260, narrow its reach and make it constitutional. In the end, we lost, and so will the young men and women that end up with a criminal record for a stupid practical joke played without malice.