Dover – A pair of bills proposed by Attorney General Beau Biden to make Delaware’s children safer passed the state Senate on Tuesday.
“Nothing is more important than protecting our kids,” Biden said.
HB 256, sponsored by Rep. Debra Heffernan and Sen. Harris B. McDowell III, will strengthen law enforcement’s ability to stop sexual predators from hurting children. Specifically, the bill makes clear that a sexual predator is guilty of the charge of sexual solicitation of a child online whether the defendant solicits an actual child or an undercover investigator whom the predator believes to be a child. The bill also elevates the offense from a Class C to a Class B felony in cases in which the predator actually travels to meet the subject he is soliciting online, whether that subject is a child or an undercover investigator.
The bill, which has been endorsed by the General Assembly’s Kids Caucus, builds on the work done by the state’s Child Predator Task Force over the past seven years to track down and arrest sexual predators. Since 2007, the Task Force’s work has led to the conviction of more than 180 predators and the rescue of 119 children who were being abused or being groomed for future victimization. The Task Force has increasingly focused on conducting proactive undercover online investigations to find predators lurking online to meet children. The Senate made a slight technical amendment to the bill, sending it back to the House for final approval.
“Thanks to the Child Predator Task Force’s hard work, we know the seriousness of this problem in Delaware,” said McDowell, D-Wilmington North. “We hope this bill will further protect our children by increasing the criminal penalties for those convicted of attempting to solicit them for sex by keeping those most heinous criminals off the streets for longer stretches.”
The second measure, HB 309, sponsored by House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson and Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, will protect Delaware youth against the potentially harmful effects of mechanical tobacco substitutes known as “electronic cigarettes,” or “e-cigarettes.” The bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly and now makes its way to the Governor.
Under the bill, a person would be prohibited from selling or distributing these e-cigarettes – defined as “tobacco substitutes” – to minors, and it prohibits minors from purchasing the products. State Representatives Michael Barbieri, Paul Baumbach, Debra Heffernan, Joe Miro and Mike Ramone are also co-prime sponsors of the legislation, which also has the support of the Division of Public Health and the Division of Tobacco and Alcohol Enforcement.
“We’re just starting to learn about the health risks associated with e-cigarettes,” said Blevins, D-Elsmere. “And we have an obligation to keep young people from getting addicted to them, especially while the jury is still out on whether they’re a safe product.”
E-cigarettes have become increasingly popular, with sales for e-cigarettes having doubled each year since 2008. Only a few clinical studies have been conducted on e-cigarettes to-date, and the results provide no definitive answer yet on the health effects of e-cigarettes, prompting the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to state that consumers of e-cigarette products have no way of knowing “whether e-cigarettes are safe for their intended use, how much nicotine or other potentially harmful chemicals are being inhaled during use, or if there are any benefits associated with using these products.”
Additionally, in 2009, the FDA analyzed two brands of e-cigarettes and found that they contained trace elements of hazardous compounds found in antifreeze. As a result, 41 Attorneys General – including Attorney General Biden – urged the FDA last September to test and regulate e-cigarettes.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the percentage of U.S. high school and middle school students using e-cigarettes doubled between 2011 and 2012. The National Youth Tobacco Survey shows that the percentage of high school students reporting ever using e-cigarettes jumped from 4.7 percent in 2011 to 10 percent in 2012 and an estimated 1.8 million young people are reported as trying e-cigarettes in 2012.
# # #Related Topics: Protecting Children
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