Both bills were released by the committee and will next be debated in the House.

Committee releases bills to combat trafficking, ammo theft

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Government

Both bills were released by the committee and will next be debated in the House.

Both bills were released by the committee and will next be debated in the House.

Prostitution and gun ammo were the odd couple of topics to be handled in Wednesday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing.

House Bill 264, sponsored by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton, makes the crime of “patronizing a prostitute” a class E felony rather than a misdemeanor when the person from whom prostitution is sought is a minor.

Williams’ second bill, House Bill 270, creates a civil penalty for any sale or display of ammunition that allows the ammunition to be accessible to a purchaser or transferee without the assistance of the vendor or an employee of the vendor. 

Prostitution bill

One reason for changing the prostitution classification is that class E felonies have a punishment of up to five years in prison. 

She said the bill’s intent is to help crack down on human trafficking of minors. 

A person is guilty of patronizing a prostitute when:

  • Pursuant to a prior agreement or understanding, the person pays a fee to another person as compensation for that person’s having engaged in sexual conduct with the person.
  • The person pays or agrees to pay a fee to another person pursuant to an agreement or understanding that in return therefore that person or a third person will engage in sexual conduct with the person.
  • The person solicits or requests another person to engage in sexual conduct with the person in return for a fee.

Any person found guilty of patronizing a prostitute and such crime has occurred on or within 1,000 feet of the property of any school, residence, church, synagogue or other place of worship shall be guilty of a class A misdemeanor.   

The minimum mandatory fine for that is $1,000. 

Everyone on the committee supported the nature of the bill, with Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, taking it one step further and saying “if you’re messing with a child, you should be chemically castrated.”

There were some concerns sprinkled in through the support to protect Delaware’s youth.

“I know that a lot of research shows that criminalization doesn’t work,” said Rep. Sophie Philips D-Bear. “It drives sex workers underground, and it puts them at even more risk, and it ends up hurting both consensual sex workers and trafficking victims and makes them less safe.”

She wanted to see research that shows this would actually combat the trafficking happening in Delaware.

While there wasn’t any research offered, Caroline Brittingham, deputy attorney general of the Human Trafficking Unit at the Department of Justice from the Department of Justice, pointed out that 43 out of 50 states criminalize the behavior in a way similar to HB 264.

“I’m appalled that you don’t have any statistics,” said Rep. Franklin Cooke, D-New Castle. “I keep having these hearings, we’re going to [Joint Finance Committee], the Bond Committee is coming soon. We get all these secretaries of all different things and they don’t have data. Please have some data.”

He also said that prostitution through dating apps has gone through the roof, but the state has made zero arrests in relation to prostitution through dating apps. 

“Let’s not be blind to this,” he said.

Cooke, a former police officer, said these people find themselves in vulnerable situations where they engage in prostitution because they can’t afford the most basic needs like clothes and water.

He shared a personal experience that he used to talk to prostitutes on his route all the time, not to arrest them, but to have conversations with them about the social services available to help get ahead in life and out of a situation where they feel their only option is prostitution.

“I just, you know, have some serious questions about doing this, when we don’t have any statistics and no data,” he said. “Come on now.”

A couple committee members also wanted clarification about potential ambiguity if the state charges someone for patronizing a prostitute who believed the prostitute was of age but was actually a minor. 

For example, if a prostitute says they are 20 but their age is actually 17, would they still be charged under this law?

The answer to that is yes. 

A recent example of that made national headlines, when Josh Giddey, a promising 21-year-old basketball player for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the National Basketball Association, was being investigated for having an inappropriate relationship with a minor. 

The charges were ultimately dropped with little explanation given to the public, but during the investigation, some basketball players, fans and pundits alike speculated that the girl lied to Giddey about her age, as the two were seen in videos and photos at 21+ clubs and bars.

Although there was still obvious concern about if the bill would reduce the numbers of trafficking cases, HB 264 was released by committee unanimously and will head to the House floor.

Ammunition bill

Williams’ second bill brought up reference of Danielle Brookens, 38, who was arrested in December 2022 in the process of stealing ammunition. 

She told police she had stolen as much as 500,000 rounds in a year and then sold it  to others, including drug dealers and violent criminals in Delaware and Philadelphia. 

Brookens, who had a history of substance abuse, was sentenced to a treatment program.

Ammunition in an enclosed display case, behind a counter or other customer access preventing device is considered inaccessible under the bill. 

A violation carries a penalty of $1,000 for a first offense, $5,000 for the second and $10,000 for a third or subsequent offense. 

RELATED: Judge: Cabela’s can’t hide behind fed issues in stolen ammo case

HB 270 also requires that a deadly weapons dealer must include with their license application and renewal application a description of their theft and loss prevention policies and procedures as well as a report of all ammunition losses or theft within the prior year. 

The bill also specifies that shoplifting is a class G felony, regardless of the value of the shoplifted goods, where the item shoplifted is ammunition. Class G felonies have a maximum punishment of two years in prison. 

House Bill 270 was released by committee and will next be heard by the entire House.

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