Gov. Carney signs three domestic violence bills into law

DELAWARE – Advocates for victims of domestic violence are celebrating what they’re calling a big win, as Governor John Carney signed three bills into law Wednesday. “We need to do whatever we can in all areas and phases where violence is occurring, be that in the schools, with teenagers when they’re dating, or whether they’re a parent and they’re perpetrating abuse against a child,” said Representative Krista Griffith.

House Bills 227, 190, and 104 are now the law of the land in Delaware. Together, they form a patch work to create a quilt, that will hopefully protect victims of domestic violence and rehabilitate first time offenders. “These three bills, what they’re designed to do is improve services for victims, but also do whatever we can to make sure that first offense is the last offense,” said Rep. Griffith, sponsor of the three bills.

Rep. Griffith says HB227 does that by adding third degree child abuse to the list of convicted criminal offenses that label someone as a perpetrator of domestic violence. Meanwhile, HB104 allows the state Department of Education a bigger window of time to collect and report data on domestic violence against students. Previously, the DOE was required to submit an annual report to the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council by August 1st of each year. Now, that deadline has been pushed back to October 15th. Schools and districts are required to enter their data by July 1st.

The two bills will only help to improve prevention and reconciliation of domestic violence, according to Rep. Griffith. “We do that by understanding what the data is. We do that by making sure that those who have already been convicted of offenses are treated properly by the court system, and that those who are entering the programs as a first offender are taking the right programs,” said Rep. Griffith.

The Delaware Department of Justice says the flip side of that is making sure that the first time an offender commits domestic violence is the last time. HB190 will expand the type of offenders that are eligible for the domestic violence first offender diversion program. Under the new bill, offenders convicted of third degree assault, terroristic threatening, and criminal contempt of a domestic violence or lethal protective order will be eligible for Delaware’s Domestic Violence First Offender Diversion Program. The Act also makes those same offenses ineligible for probation before judgement in the Court of Common Pleas and Family Court.

DOJ Unit Head of Domestic Violence Jenna Milecki says by expanding that program, they’ll hopefully be able to prevent future cases of domestic violence. “It helps to direct the appropriate individuals into diversion programs that address their needs, with the hope of they don’t come back into the system and that further victims are not the next victims of domestic violence at their hands,” said Milecki. “While that both benefits an individual in the system, it also benefits anyone who would be a potential victim of them in the future. So, this is an early intervention opportunity for someone who’s not been in the system before.”

Meanwhile, domestic violence victims’ advocates say legislative action like this has been a long time coming. President and founder of Voices Against Domestic Violence Jacqueline Sterbach says these provisions are a welcome addition to the protections already provided for victims. “It’s only been 29 years that The Violence Against Women Act of 1992 became the first defense for women and children who were experiencing violence at the hand of a partner or acquaintance,” said Sterbach. “It has only been 29 years that violence against women became a crime. It has been slow for change as voices have risen and proclaimed the need for help within the laws for protection.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence in lower Delaware, you can use the following resources:

Delaware Victims’ Rights Task Force

Delaware Domestic Violence Coordinating Council

Delaware Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Child Inc.

La Esperanza in Georgetown, Del. 

What is Your Voice, Inc. in Lewes, Del. 

People’s Place/The SAFE Program in Milford, Del.

Categories: Delaware, Local News, Local Politics