DOVER — Nearly 15 years in the making, transgender Delawareans are now protected under Delaware law.
Gov. Jack A. Markell signed Senate Bill 97 Wednesday, after the amended bill passed the state’s Senate by a vote of 11-9.
“With the signing of this bill, transgender people in Delaware will be afforded the same protections as every other Delawarean and that deserves applause,” Gov. Markell said.
With the governor’s signature, Delaware joined 16 jurisdictions, including Washington, D.C., and 165 cities and counties to adopt some form of a gender identity law
“I’ve always considered this state my home and I’ve never been prouder to be a Delawarean,” said Sarah McBride, a transgender Delawarean who has been lobbying with LGBTQ activist group Equality Delaware. She and her parents, Sally and David McBride, have provided passionate testimony throughout the bill’s journey.
The legislation adds the term “gender identity” to the list of prohibited practices of discrimination and hate crimes in the state and effectively forbids discrimination in housing, employment, public work contracting, public accommodations and insurance.
The amendment clarified the definition of gender identity and stated that places of public accommodation have the option to provide alternative accommodations for transgender individuals in areas such as locker rooms or other changing facilities.
Though the original draft of the nondiscrimination employment act in 1999 included protection for transgender individuals, the final bill had been rewritten, and passed, without gender identity included.
Opponents of the bill still wonder about its practical application.
“SB 97 states that ‘reasonable accommodations’ must be made for transgendered individuals in every school, business, and organization that provides public accommodations. Who decides what is reasonable?” said Nicole Theis, president of Family Policy Council.
Still, Ms. McBride maintained that the legislation only provides basic safety and security for transgender individuals in the state, and will not be seen as an imposition on businesses or the like.
“After this bill is passed, the only difference in Delaware is that transgender people will be treated equally,” she said.
“There will be none of the doomsday scenarios that opponents of the legislation said. And all Delawareans will see that in the coming months and years ahead.”
During a hearing Wednesday, the House Administration Committee wrestled with Republican accountability bills as well as two Democratic voting bills.
Prior to the spring recess, Rep. Timothy Dukes, R-Laurel, had introduced a bill to the House Administration Committee that related to election and candidate disclosures; however, the bill was tabled during the meeting. House Bill 79 included provisions that required all statewide candidates to disclose filings for state and federal income tax returns, tax dues, property taxes and child support payments under oath.
Committee chair House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, requested the bill be tabled and Rep. Dukes approach the committee after the spring recess in April with an amended bill that did not include the provision to require the disclosure of child support payments.
Wednesday he issued a substitute bill with her requirements, still leaving the other provisions in. Civil penalties would still stand at $50 a day if the statement is not filed and filing a false statement under oath could lead to prosecution.
“I’m not sure whether it will get a full vote,” Rep. Longhurst said, however it was released from committee.
House Minority Leader Rep. Daniel B. Short, R-Seaford, also defended a bill centered on accountability during the meeting. House Bill 84 mandates criminal background checks for election candidates.
Rep. Short said the legislation is worth pursuing because it would not allow an individual with some sort of criminal background to “slip through the cracks” without being addressed. He said a background check costs around $65.
“I think that’s a very simple issue to resolve and it’s just a phone call away,” he said.
“I don’t like it,” House Speaker Rep. Peter C. Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said simply. He wondered if a clause could be included in Rep. Dukes’ bill, which would ask if a candidate had been convicted of a crime.
The bill did not have a majority vote to be released from the committee.
Prior to taking up the GOP bills, two bills from Democratic representatives concerning election issues sailed through the committee.
House Bill 152, sponsored by Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington East, establishes a process for a registered voter in a pending election zone to file a complaint against a candidate believed to not meet locally or state-mandated residency requirements for that elective office at least 45 days before the election or primary.
The elections commissioner could remove the candidate from the election, but the decision could be appealed. To prove residency requirements, candidates would have to show tax filings or sworn affidavits to show compliance. They would be fined $500 if found in violation of the office’s residency requirement.
House Bill 159, limits the amount of offices a candidate can run for in the same election. Under Delaware’s current election code, no limitation exists.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, prohibits a candidate from running for more than one state, county or municipal office in the same election. The bills could be up for a full House vote in the legislature’s remaining five days.