Making Democracy Work

Current Issues

HB 204 - Pre-trial (Bail) Reform

The Current Situation

hands gripping prison bars Statistics show that the majority of prisoners in America's local jails... over 400,000 people nationwide... have not been convicted of any crime. They are awaiting trial, detained in many cases because they cannot raise enough bail money (source: prisonpolicy.org, "The Whole Pie" 2017).

In Delaware, pretrial detainees are housed in prisons like Vaughn Correctional Institute along with convicted offenders, including inmates sentenced to die. At any given time, one out of five prisoners in Delaware (around 1,100 people, using 2016 numbers) are there because they can't afford to pay pretrial bail.

Attitudes toward pre-trial bail as a flight deterrent are changing in the US. Cash-based bail systems force poor but low-risk defendants to remain behind bars awaiting trial, while releasing some higher risk individuals who can afford bail, which does little to actually protect communities. The impact on the detained person's life is marked and not easily reversed... they often lose jobs, homes, and community standing while awaiting trial and "presumed innocent."

Pending Delaware Legislation

HB 204 aims to change the pretrial system in Delaware. The bill, introduced into the General Assembly in June 2017 by Rep. J.J. Johnson, is intended to give judges more discretion in deciding when cash bail is or is not required. Judges would also be given access to new empirical assessment tools to help in that decision making, and defendants would be assured of a pretrial hearing within 72 hours of arrest. (Current Delaware rules allow a 10-day holding period before a prisoner has any hearing at all.)

prison cells According to the Delaware Center for Justice (dcjustice.org), in addition to being more just and saving the state money, these measures have the potential to lower rates of recidivism. Studies in the past 5 years have shown that the longer low-risk detainees are held behind bars before trial, the more likely they are to commit another crime.

The legislation has passed the Delaware House of Representatives in a 38-to-3 vote, is out of Senate committee and will come to a full Senate vote in the 2018 state legislative session. The issue has garnered broad bipartisan support, but could still be derailed by legislative opponents using procedural methods. Not surprisingly, the strongest opponents to the bill have been Delaware's bail bondsmen.

League members are urged to follow the bill's progress at legis.delaware.gov, and make your voice heard if you support or oppose this bill. The LWVDE Advocacy Corps supports HB 204, and testified on its behalf in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

The Washington, DC Experience

Washington DC largely eliminated cash bail in 1992. The D.C. Council recognized that "an over-dependence on cash bonds, coupled with delays in bringing defendants to trial, resulted in lengthy pretrial detention of too many defendants, a disproportionate number of whom were poor."

In DC today, 85 percent of defendants are released without bail, 90 percent of them show up for their court dates, and 91 percent of them stay out of trouble while free. And the district saves at least $398 million a year - more than $1 million a day - by releasing defendants into supervision programs that are far less expensive than keeping the defendants behind bars. (source: Cleveland Metro News article, May 16, 2016)

HB 160 - End of Life Options

Rep. Paul Baumbach's first physician assistance in dying legislation in Delaware, HB 150 in 2015 was never expected to pass, but rather just to open a dialog on the topic of end-of-life options for the terminally ill in our state. In 2017 however, HB 160, the Delaware End of Life Options Act, has been released from committee and stands a chance to pass in a full House vote.

If you feel strongly about this issue, contact your state representative and let him or her know.   HB 160 may come to a House vote early in the 2018 legislative session.

Rep. Baumbach partnered with Tim Appleton of the nationwide Compassion & Choices non-profit organization to hold a series of information forums during the legislative off-season. They screened "The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner" documentary film followed by discussion of the proposed Delaware legislation. Booth Gardner was a popular two-term governor of Washington state whose diagnosis with Parkinson's disease after he left office helped motivate him to lead a successful voter initiative in 2008 to allow physician assistance in dying for the terminally ill in that state.

Paul Baumbach speaks at 11/14/2017 End of Life Options meeting
Rep. Paul Baumbach speaks at the movie screening Nov 14 at Temple Beth El in Newark

The Delaware End of Life Options Act would allow terminally ill adults nearing their death to opt for a self-administered medical prescription to end their lives early. The bill is very specific in scope and contains numerous safeguards to ensure that the patient is making an informed decision and not being coerced by others. Introduced in May 2017, bill sponsors are Rep. Baumbach and Senator Henry, with Senator Hansen and Sokola and Rep. B.Short co-sponsoring.

The end-of-life options issue, in the past sometimes referred to as "Physician Assisted Suicide" (PAS) or "Death With Dignity," is an emotional one that raises strong opinions both for and against. A 2015 Gallup poll found that 68% of Americans favored the practice, when asked using this wording: "When a person has a disease that cannot be cured and is living in severe pain, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed by law to assist the patient to commit suicide if the patient requests it?"

Supporting Arguments

Supporters say that providing a physician-assisted end-of-life option helps the terminally ill patient maintain some control over his or her situation, and avoids unecessary suffering or prolonging of an unbearable situation. An often-heard remark is that we currently treat our pets far more humanely than our human citizens in the United States at the end of their lives. Supporters point to long-term, successful experience with PAS programs in Oregon, Washington, other US states and foreign countries.

From a News Journal (DelawareOnline) article 5/2/17:   "This is an issue about allowing adults facing a terminal illness to make critical decisions about their life," said Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark. "Many people in the last stages of life wish to retain their dignity, including the ability to make decisions regarding their life and their suffering."

Opposing Arguments

The primary opposition groups include disability rights activists, religious groups, and medical services providers.

  • Disabled persons may find the term "death with dignity" offensive (when the "undignified" situation mirrors some of their own realities), and may fear a "slippery slope" that might eventually encourage other compromised individuals, not just terminally ill persons, to seek assistance in dying.
  • Religious groups such as the Catholic Church may believe that only God should have the choice or power to end a life.
  • Medical professionals may feel that end-of-life options conflict with their duty as healers, or violate the Hippocratic Oath.

League of Women Voters Position

League of Women Voters of the United States (LWVUS) has no consensus position on PAS. However one state League, the League of Women Voters of Utah, took a position in favor of physician assistance in dying in January 2016. The Utah study is a comprehensive 32 pages long and well worth a read-through, while the Utah position statement is a brief and to the point.

Delaware League members in particular are encouraged to review the Utah league's work, preparatory to a potential concurrence position of our League with theirs.

Making Democracy Work - Independent Redistricting

A redistricting commission is a body, other than the usual state legislative bodies, designated to draw electoral district lines. The intent is to avoid gerrymandering by specifying a nonpartisan or bipartisan body to comprise the commission drawing district lines.

How to Steal an Election (Gerrymandering Diagram)
Graphic by Steven Nass via Wikimedia Commons

Arizona, California, Idaho, New Jersey and Washington are among U.S. states who used some form of non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission following the 2010 census.

Supreme Court Cases

In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission that redistricting commissions such as Arizona's, whose redistricting commission process is independent of the state legislature, were constitutional.

In June of 2016 the Court agreed to take up the partisan gerrymandering case from Wisconsin, Gill v. Whitford. It will be heard next term, which begins in October and runs through June 2018. "This is a critical step forward in the battle against excessive partisan gerrymandering," said League of Women Voters president Chris Carson.

The League's Position

The national League of Women Voters has this position on redistricting:

"The League of Women Voters believes responsibility for redistricting preferably should be vested in an independent special commission, with membership that reflects the diversity of the unit of government, including citizens at large, representatives of public interest groups, and members of minority groups."

The full LWVUS position goes on to recommend additional redistricting process guidelines and standards.

Public opinion polling has shown high public support for taking the redistricting process out of the hands of partisan legislatures. In early 2012, the League of Women Voters Education Fund published Shining a Light: Redistricting Lessons Learned, which lays out key League priorities related to redistricting reform. The publication has been shared widely with Leagues and partners nationwide.

Redistricting in Delaware

Delaware redraws its voting districts after the US Census is taken every 10 years. A bill currently before the Delaware Legislature, Senate Bill 27 sponsored by Senator Bryan Townsend, proposes to create an Independent Redistricting Commission for the State of Delaware. The provisions of the bill include a very detailed selection process designed to minimize the influence of partisan politics.

Senate Bill 27 was passed in the Delaware Senate on April 5, 2017, but has languished in the House Administration Committee since then. House leadership is not convinced that an independent commission is necessary in Delaware.

What You Can Do

If you believe independent redistricting is needed in Delaware, contact the House leaders during the session break and urge them to release SB 27 from committee in January 2018:

Speaker of the House - Peter Schwartzkopf
House Majority Leader - Valerie Longhurst
House Majority Whip - John Viola
House Minority Leader - Daniel Short
House Minority Whip - Deborah Hudson
Explain your concerns to the legislators...
  • Why is redistricting a priority to you?
  • What is your primary concern about gerrymandered districts?
  • How have you seen gerrymandered districts influence democracy?

Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking (exploitation of individuals for sexual or forced labor purposes) is a worldwide problem, and Delaware is not immune. The 147th session of the state legislature passed SB 270 in June of 2014 to help fight human trafficking in Delaware.

Stop Human Trafficking League of Women Voters of New Castle County (LWVNCC), along with AAUW, Zoe Ministries, Prison Ministries of Delaware and other groups, has sponsored a series of Human Trafficking Forums between June 2016 and May 2017, in Newark, Middletown, and Wilmington, to raise public awareness.

Some forum facts:

  • Delaware is the pipeline through which the trafficking passes in this part of the country - Deputy Attorney General Abigail Layton.
  • Over 100 cases have passed through the human trafficking program in the Court of Common Pleas in the last four years - Court Commissioner Mary McDonough.
  • It happens in every single county - Yolanda Schlabach of Zoe Ministries.
  • The Human Trafficking Coordinating Council established by the legislature in 2014 still has no officially allocated funding

These 2010 Fact Sheets from Polaris Project address common myths and misconceptions about human trafficking in the US.

Message from Emily White, past LWVNCC President, in January 2017:

"Human exploitation, known as Human Trafficking, is a multi-million/billion dollar business, at the expense of human beings, from young children and teenagers, to adults, both male and female. This is a world-wide commerce, using human beings as a commodity, though you won't find the profits listed on the news as a factor in our National GDP. Nationally, over 300,000 children and teenagers are bought and sold each year. Those statistics refer only to the people who are rescued. Human trafficking is alive and rampant here in the State of Delaware.

There are vigilant activists in Delaware; League Board member, Fay Whittle, who chairs the Social Justice Committee in New Castle County, arranges Speaker Forums to address the issue. Yolanda Schlabach, from Sussex County, is the owner and CEO of the non-profit, ZOE Ministries, arranged a Speaker Forum in November at Dover Downs; Over 638 people were in attendance, with a waiting list. Ms. Schlabach travels throughout the State, speaking at schools and for groups at community centers.

Emily White Delaware State Legislators have been addressing strategies for combating Human Trafficking in this state. Legislation was enacted in Delaware in 2014. Governor Markell has scheduled a press conference for January 10, 2017, 2:30 P.M., declaring through Proclamation, that January will be Human Trafficking Month in the State of Delaware."

Delaware Affordable Care Act

The website for Delaware's health insurance marketplace ChooseHealthDE.com provides Delawareans information they may need to know before enrollment, including answers to frequently asked questions and how to connect with the state's marketplace guides.

Healthcare.gov has a resource available that provides geographically specific premium and rate information after answering a few basic questions. It should be noted that this calculator provides information on rates prior to any premium subsidies or cost sharing that an individual might receive. To calculate subsidies, consumers may use the Kaiser Family Foundations Subsidy Calculator. Both of these calculators provide Delaware-specific information and can be accessed directly as well as via ChooseHealthDE.com.

For those interested in additional detail on the plans and rates, Delaware's Department of Insurance has made many resources available on its website, including charts of the medical and dental plan rates for all ages by plan, and the list of Agents and Brokers (Producers) certified to discuss Marketplace products.