Governor Signs Legislation Creating a Division of Forensic Science

New division replaces Office of the Chief Medical Examiner

Dover, DE – Following a 35 – 4 vote in the House, Governor Markell signed Senate Bill 241 into law today setting up the Division of Forensic Science to take over the operations previously conducted by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.  The bill, which was approved by the Senate 18 – 2 earlier this month, reorganizes the forensic sciences in a new Division within the Department of Safety and Homeland Security.  The bill also establishes a Forensic Science Commission to provide important oversight and assistance to the office.

“Forensic science is at the core of our work in the criminal justice system,” said Governor Markell.  “This legislation will help us create a structure for forensic science that can support the criminal justice community in a way that is expert, timely, professionally independent, and accountable.  I would like to thank Senator Marshall, Senator Hall-Long, Rep. Barbieri, and Rep. Mitchell for their leadership in helping us take this important step to improving the operations of this important office.”

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Robert Marshall (D-Wilmington), Sen. Bethany Hall-Long (D- Middletown), Rep. John Mitchell (D-Elsmere) and Rep. Mike Barbieri (D-Newark) will create a new division director to head the forensic science operation. The Forensic Science Commission will include representatives of law enforcement, forensic science experts, a prosecutor, a public defender and heads of the state Health and Homeland Security agencies.

“This is a modernization of a state agency that we’ve come to find is necessary and long overdue,” said Rep. Barbieri, who chairs the House Health and Human Development Committee. “This legislation creates a new framework for the important jobs done by the medical examiner, with a much improved level of oversight and accountability.”

“We place a tremendous amount of trust in the hands of the medical examiner’s office in our criminal justice system, and we need to know that our trust will be repaid in the form of thorough, professional work,” said Rep. Mitchell, chairman of the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee. “The changes being proposed will ensure that we get what we expect from a state crime lab and the individuals appointed to run it.”

The Commission would have oversight of the Division of Forensic Science, including review of its operations, staffing and resource needs, quality assurance, evidence protocols, responsiveness to the criminal justice community, accreditation and audit needs, and maintenance of the professional independence of its expert staff. The Commission would also consider whether additional changes in the structure or the organization of forensic sciences in Delaware would be more efficient or make the office more effective.

“Senate Bill 241 answers the question Delawareans have been asking since this February when the scandal at the Medical Examiner’s Office was revealed: ‘Who is in charge?’” Marshall said. “That answer is the new division and the new director.”

“I think this bill responds to concerns that the division’s independence might be threatened by creating an oversight board to set up procedures and ensures that it can operate without undue influence,” Hall-Long said. “I think the overwhelming support this this measure received in the House and Senate will go a long way to reestablishing public confidence.”

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Governor Markell Signs Good Samaritan Bill to Prevent Overdose Deaths

Law established in memory of Delaware victims

Wilmington, DDSCF8680E –Surrounded by families who have lost loved ones to drug overdoses, Governor Jack Markell signed Senate Bill 116 today to address the rising number of these fatalities by granting criminal immunity to individuals who report an alcohol or drug overdose. The law bears the name of Kristen L. Jackson, who died of a prescription drug overdose in January 2012, when friends were afraid to call 911, and John M. Perkins Jr., who was killed by a heroin overdose in May 2011.

“If we might save just one life by removing the fear that prevents a victim or friend from calling for help, we should not hesitate,” said Markell, who also thanked the relatives of Jackson, Perkins and other victims.

“While dealing with a level of grief that most of us cannot comprehend, these families stepped forward to tell their stories of loss in the hope of preventing others from experiencing their heartache. Their efforts were crucial in establishing the Kristen L Jackson and John M. Perkins Jr. Law.”

SB 116 passed the Senate on June 18 and the House on June 26, with no dissenting votes in either chamber. It provides that someone who seeks medical attention for an overdose or life threatening emergency, including for him or herself, will not be arrested or prosecuted for crimes detailed in the law. These offenses do not include the most serious felonies, Classes A, B and C.

“This is a very big step and I’m thrilled that it has been signed into law today,” said Sen. Cathy Cloutier (R-Heatherbrooke), the bill’s prime sponsor. “I believe it is a law that will save lives in Delaware. Now we need to educate people that if they are with friends, they don’t need to be afraid to call 911 if things get out of hand. No one should die because of another’s fear of getting in trouble.”DSCF8663

“This has been an important, bipartisan effort on the part of Senator Cloutier and myself to save the lives of Delawareans,” said Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, who also sponsored the bill. “We appreciate the help and input of the Delaware State Police, the Attorney General’s Office and the University of Delaware in crafting a law that will do just that. I also appreciate the leadership of the Senate, the House and of Governor Markell for acting quickly to enact this life-saving measure.”

Representatives Helene Keeley (D-Wilmington South), Michael Barbieri (D-Newark) and Michael Mulrooney (D-Pennwood) sponsored the bill in the House.

The new law builds on Delaware’s ongoing commitment to ending the epidemic of prescription drug abuse, which kills more Delawareans every year than traffic accidents. Last year, the Department of State launched the prescription monitoring program to track prescriptions and identify medical professional who abuse their license to prescribe highly addictive drugs.

Before ending its 2013 session Sunday night, the General Assembly passed reforms backed by the Department to mandate doctors’ participation in the program, while also reducing the amount of pills that can be prescribed in emergencies, and, for the first time, requiring prescribers and dispensers to take mandatory controlled substances training.

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Governor Signs Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act

Protects transgender individuals from discrimination

Dover, DE – Governor Jack Markell signed the Gender Identity Nondiscrimination Act (SB 97) today, ensuring equal legal protections to transgender individuals in Delaware.

The bill forbids discrimination against a person on the basis of gender identity and provides for increased punishment of a person who intentionally selects the victim of a crime because of the victim’s gender identity. Prior to its passage, it has been legal to fire someone, deny them housing, or throw them out of a restaurant simply because they are transgender.

The changes established by the SB 97 afford transgender Delawareans the same legal protections already granted to everyone on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, among other characteristics. Nearly 200 Delaware businesses had signed a statement of support for the passage of the law.

“Our mission to build a welcoming and accepting state that can compete in the global economy requires laws that reflect our values,” said Markell. “Today, we guarantee that our transgender relatives and neighbors can work hard, participate in our communities, and live their lives with dignity and in safety.”

“I especially want to thank my friend Sarah McBride, an intelligent and talented Delawarean who happens to be transgender. She courageously stood before the General Assembly to describe her personal struggles with gender identity and communicate her desire to return home after her college graduation without fear. Her tireless advocacy for passage of this legislation has made a real difference for all transgender people in Delaware.”

The Senate passed the final version of the bill earlier in the day by an 11-9 vote following approval in the House on Tuesday by a 24-17 margin. Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, was the lead sponsor, with additional sponsorship from Senate President Patricia Blevins and Representative Bryon Short.

“This simply does something that should have been done a long time ago. We are extending the same basic protections against discrimination and hate crimes that all our other citizens enjoy to a group that has been discriminated against for a long time,” said Henry. “When the governor signs this bill, it says Delaware is a welcoming place to come and live and that we welcome all people and that we treat them fairly and equitably.”

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Governor Signs School Choice Reform, Keeps Pledge from State-of-the-State

House Bill 90, sponsored by Rep. Kimberly Williams, streamlines program to ensure families can choose best education option

Newark, DE – After vowing in his State of the State 2013 to address unfair burdens of the school choice system on Delaware families, Governor Jack Markell signed legislation (House Bill 90) today to simplify the application process and help ensure students can attend their chosen school.

Markell made the law official in front of administrators, teachers, parents and students at Red Clay Consolidated School District’s Forest Oak Elementary School, where nearly one in three students attends as part of the choice program. The initiative, which required an update after not receiving substantive legislative attention since 1998, allows students to apply to public, charter or vocational technical schools throughout the state without regard to where they live. In the current school year, 28 percent of students utilize some form of school choice within or outside the bounds of their home district.

“Our students are our future and the key to our efforts to ensure Delaware will compete and win in the 21st century economy,” said Governor Markell. “They will only perform their best if we put them in an environment that is most conducive to learning for them. This bill will help families navigate the available options and make the right educational choices for their children.”

HB 90 was spearheaded by Representative Kimberly Williams, a former PTA President at Forest Oaks Elementary school, who worked with the Governor, Senator Nicole Poore and education community leaders to craft reforms. A former Red Clay Consolidated School District board member, Rep. Williams said she was proud to help lead the effort to update the complicated school choice system.

“As a local PTA president and a school board member, I have been a long-time advocate for improvements to our school choice program,” said Rep. Williams, D-Stanton. “Not only does this bill make the process easier, it makes it fair. All students deserve a level playing field in the choice system. I am thrilled to have helped get this measure passed and I look forward to continuing to work with schools and educators to help our children succeed.”

Sen. Nicole Poore, D-Barb’s Farm, who guided the bill through the Senate, said the law makes needed improvements to the school choice process.

“We’re making the school choice application process easier for families to use by requiring uniform application forms and deadlines,” Poore said. “We’re also making sure that the choice program offers our children with disabilities who have IEP plans a chance to participate, and that makes this law a great opportunity for every child in Delaware.”

HB 90 will:

  • Make it easier for parents to navigate the choice process by standardizing application forms and deadlines across traditional, vocational technical, and charter schools; allowing parents to submit choice applications through the Department of Education website; and requiring districts to hold public information sessions about choice opportunities.
  • Eliminate discrimination against choice students by requiring districts to use the same standards for choice students as they do for students in their attendance zone, and limiting the criteria a district may use to evaluate choice applications.
  • Streamline the role of school capacity in the choice process by specifying the criteria that may be used in reporting capacity and requiring districts to accept choice students until they are at 85% of capacity.
  • Help state leaders understand and recommend changes to all public school enrollment preferences by creating a task force to explore enrollment preferences at magnet, vocational technical, and charter schools, and to develop recommendations as necessary.

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Additional photos from the event can be found on the Governor’s Flickr Page.

A video of the bill signing is available on the Governor’s YouTube channel.


Governor Signs Bill allowing Liquor Stores to Sell Growlers of Draught Beer

New law benefits Delaware craft breweries, liquor stores

(Dover, DE) Flanked by liquor store and Delaware craft brewery owners at Fordham & Old Dominion Brewing companies in Dover, Governor Markell signed into law House Bill 31, which allows Delaware liquor stores to fill and sell growlers of draught beer on site. A growler is a glass or ceramic jug filled with draught beer, typically sold in a 64-ounce (half gallon) size. Until today, craft breweries can only sell growlers at their breweries or brewpub. Neighboring states Pennsylvania and New Jersey already allow liquor stores to sell growlers, while Maryland’s law is on county-by-county basis.

With beer aficionados celebrating American Craft Beer Week, liquor store owners and local breweries toasted the legislation for its benefit to craft beer makers and consumers.

“While it’s nice to recognize American Craft Beer week, this bill is part of a larger effort to move Delaware small and medium-sized businesses forward,” said Governor Markell. “Until today, Delawareans who own craft breweries or liquor stores were at a disadvantage compared to their competitors across our borders. As a result of the efforts led by Representative Heffernan and Senator Sokola, these businesses can compete and expand on market opportunities, which is good for their bottom lines and good for our state’s overall economy.”

Breweries often produce draught beer varieties that are only available at their brewery or brewpub, which limits craft beer drinkers’ ability to purchase certain varieties. By allowing liquor stores to sell growlers, Rep. Debra Heffernan said that Delaware’s small craft breweries will be able to expand their market and reach more customers, while liquor stores will be able to compete with stores in neighboring states.

“It didn’t make sense to me that I could drive right over the Pennsylvania state line to buy a growler of Delaware-made craft beer but would have to drive the length of the state if I wanted to buy the same growler in Delaware,” said Representative Deb Heffernan, D-Brandywine Hundred South. “Craft beer drinkers enjoy the taste of these small-batch beers and love trying different varieties. This is an economic development bill that increases access to fresh, locally brewed beer across Delaware. By allowing Delaware liquor stores to sell growlers, we will be helping two industries increase sales and expand their customer base. It truly is an economic development win-win for everyone involved.”

According to the Brewers Association, craft brewers and brewpubs provide nearly 110,000 jobs in the U.S.   Delaware ranks 10th in the nation for capita per brewery with nine breweries operating throughout all three counties.  The craft beer industry exploded during the past 20 years, with the number of breweries operating in the U.S. mushrooming from about 300 in 1990 to more than 2,400 as of March, with 2,360 being defined as craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association.  The craft brewing industry grew 15 percent by volume and 17 percent by retail dollars in 2012, while overall beer sales in 2012 were up 0.9 percent by volume. The Delaware Brewers Guild estimates that state craft brewers produced about 250,000 barrels of beer last year.

“We are beyond excited about the passage of HB 31. Growlers are something our customers have been asking about for a while now and it is great to be able to fill that demand,” said Peco’s Liquor Store owner Ed Mulvihill. “Not only will this new law make beer lovers around the state happy, it will also give more exposure to our fantastic local brewers. A very special thank you to Rep. Debra Heffernan for all she has done in support of this bill. She realized the importance of this legislation to Delaware and worked tirelessly until it became a reality. I know that customer excitement is high for growlers and we will be up and running the moment the green light is given to us.”

“We are excited that the growlers will allow us to share draft-only beers, that had been previously only available to bars, with many of our loyal drinkers,” said Jim Lutz, president and CEO of Fordham & Dominion Brewing. “We appreciate the community that comes along with these. Not only do they connect us to beer history, they provide us a means of commemorating special occasions.”

Under House Bill 31, liquor stores will be able to purchase a growler filler permit for $150 every two years, allowing them to fill, cap and sell growlers to go.

“This is a change that just makes a lot of sense,” said Senator David Sokola, D-Newark, the bill lead sponsor in the Senate. “Delaware beer lovers shouldn’t have to go to Pennsylvania or Maryland to get a growler of their favorite Delaware brews refilled, and now they won’t have to do that. Our craft breweries are a growing industry and often set the standard for the rest of the industry, so I’m glad we were able to get this done to support our craft brewing community, both the brewers and the beer lovers who support them.”

Delaware Alcoholic Beverage Control Commissioner Jack Cordrey said he expects that his office will be able to start issuing growler filler permits within a week.

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Photos from the event are available online.