Committees pass bills dealing with alcohol, sexual assault

DOVER — A Senate committee approved legislation Wednesday dealing with sexual assault on college campuses. The bill, which was first introduced more than a year ago and has since been changed, seeks to crack down on campus sexual assaults and provide greater resources to victims.

The federal Education Department is investigating dozens of colleges, including the University of Delaware, over potential mishandled sexual assault cases. Campus rape, which Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, referred to as an “epidemic” Wednesday, happens to 20 to 25 percent of college women, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

The legislation released by the Senate Judiciary Committee to the full chamber mandates that in cases where a university employee is informed of a sexual assault, the employee must offer to contact law enforcement, provide the victim information on what rights the victim has and inform them of available counseling, medical and advocacy services.

The first copy of the bill required police be contacted within 24 hours, but a substitute for the legislation leaves that as a choice up to the victim.

The proposal, which passed the House unanimously, gives universities directives to keep stats of how many sexual assaults occur on their campuses and to provide training to their employees of what to do if a student informs them of an incident.

It also provides power to the state to follow up on complaints reported to police and to fine universities if they fail to fulfill their required duties.

While the proposal did not receive any votes against from the House of Representatives last month, Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, raised concerns in the committee hearing.

The bill, while “extremely well-intentioned,” is too broad and does not begin to address the root causes of sexual assault, he said.

But Sen. Peterson, herself a survivor of sexual violence, took a different view and shared her story of being ignored by police after she was assaulted.

“This isn’t perfect but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said of the bill.

In the House of Representatives, a committee approved a bill that would allow distilleries to buy alcohol they do not make and mix it with drinks they do produce on-site to be sold to customers.

The legislation, which has bipartisan support, was released to the floor from House Economic Development Committee after less than two minutes of discussion.

“Really what this bill does is allows us to be a bit more flexible about what we offer and what we’ll be purchasing our products from retailers, using them in cocktails,” Painted Stave Distilling co-founder Mike Rasmussen said.

Mr. Rasmussen cited an example of the Smyrna distillery being unable to make a Manhattan because while it produces whiskey, it does not have vermouth.

The distillery approached Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna, to request the change to the state laws, and he introduced the bill.

Dogfish Head in Milton and Beach Time Distilling in Lewes could also benefit from the proposal, according to Mr. Rasmussen.

Lawmakers also plan to put into law an already existing process of providing a public defender for children or teenagers charged with a crime. The legislation has not yet been filed but could be as soon as today.

“It’s a practice that’s been going on for years and years,” Speaker of the House Peter Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said. “We’re codifying the practice. We want to make sure all the kids have adequate representation.

“Sometimes there’s some issues. it doesn’t mean we’re paying for or we’re going to assign a lawyer to every kid that comes through the court. I mean, some of the parents are going to want provide their own attorneys when they can and everything, but we want to have it codified so that if there’s a case where the parents can actually pay and they’re just estranged from the son or the daughter or whatever and they refuse, we have to be able to give this child adequate defense counsel.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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