Three bills that change Delaware law as it relates to child abuse passed the House, with some sparking more contention than others.
House Bill 182, sponsored by Rep. Krista Griffith, D-Fairfax, would change child abuse in the third, second and first degree to child abuse in the fourth, third and second degree respectively; and changes the new third degree child abuse to a class D felony from a class G felony.
Someone convicted of a class G felony could serve up to two years in prison, while someone convicted of a class D felony could serve up to eight years in prison.
House Bill 183, sponsored by Griffith, would update the definition of child endangerment to include intentionally giving a child a controlled substance that the child isn’t prescribed.
The bill adds additional penalties depending on the harm to a child due to exposure to controlled substances, with a child’s death leading to a class B felony, serious physical injury leading to a class C felony, and physical injury leading to a class D felony.
House Bill 186, sponsored by Rep. Cyndie Romer, D-Newark, would remove a requirement that children – even older children who abuse younger children – be placed on the sex offender registry and have judges decide whether to place a child on the registry.
None of the bills require a fiscal note.
An amendment to HB 182, sponsored by Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, would have decreased the bill’s mandatory minimum sentencing time from five years to three years for anyone who commits second degree child abuse.
Lynn said the mandatory minimum sentencing in the bill is unjust and unfair.
“Minimum mandatory jail sentences undermine our commitment to justice and fairness. They prevent judges from looking at individuals’ backgrounds and the circumstances of his or her offenses in sentencing determinations,” Lynn said. “These laws, as we’ve learned over the years, disproportionately impact people of color and have caused our prison population to soar. It leads to overcrowding and exorbitant costs of incarceration to our taxpayers.”
Related Story: House Judiciary OKs one child abuse bill, tables another
Griffith called the amendment unfriendly, a signal she didn’t support it, and the amendment failed 6 to 33.
The bill passed the House 39 to 1, and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Griffith said HB 183 hopes to address issues of children unintentionally breathing a substance such as fentanyl.
“Just a child breathing in fentanyl in a vent of a car can result, and has resulted, in a child’s death. Serious physical injuries are happening and deaths are happening to children,” Griffith said. “This bill seeks to address that by imposing criminal charges should a child die, suffer a serious physical injury or suffer a period of altered mental or physical state because of the child’s exposure to substances not prescribed by a physician.”
An amendment to the bill, sponsored by Griffith, would clarify that there has to be a connection between a child’s exposure to a controlled substance and some kind of physical or mental injury to that child.
Griffith said a defense attorney recommended the amendment, which passed by voice vote.
The bill unanimously passed the House, and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown said she appreciates both HB 182 and HB 183 and that they will hopefully help prosecute people for heinous crimes.
Romer said she filed HB 186 about putting children onto sexual offender lists after talking with experts about children being automatically listed.
“Prominent research has shown that putting children on sex offender registries does not prevent juveniles from committing sexual offenses and does not improve public safety,” Romer said. “I am basing this legislation off of what these amazing people who work with these kids and know truly what is in the best interest of all children in Delaware.”
An amendment, sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Spiegelman, R-Townsend/Hartly, would require a 14 year old or older guilty of either the crime of continuous sexual abuse of a child or sexual abuse of a child by any person in a position of trust be placed on the sex offender registry after the bill had not specified that.
Spiegelman said the bill isn’t quite what he wants, but is still in favor of it.
“I think I’ve made the reference that this bill is a bit like…hitting a nail with a sledge hammer,” Spiegelman said. “I still think it’s a bit too much. This amendment does make it better. Thank you [Romer] for working with me on it. I wish it went a little further, but in the end, this is the bill that’s in front of us.”
The amendment passed by voice vote.
Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford said that he can’t support the legislation because it removes the requirement to add 14 to 17 year olds, who abuse 5 year old and younger children, to the sex registry list.
“My heartache comes from talking about 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds,” Shupe said. “And one of the things that is still on the list is sexually abusing a child that’s under five. And I do not understand, even if we Keep it up to a judge…why would we take them off the sex registry list, a 14, 15, 16, 17 year old that would abuse a five year old or under.”
Shupe is the chief executive officer of Delaware LIVE News.
The bill passed 27 to 10, with three not voting, and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
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