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Bill of Rights for people experiencing homelessness on verge of revival

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

After negotiations among House Democrats, a bill prohibiting discrimination against people experiencing homelessness is poised to make a comeback.

The bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Sean Lynn (D-Dover), says the nearly decade-old proposal to forbid discrimination against unhoused people – including while seeking healthcare or filing apartment or job applications – is even important now after Delaware’s unhoused population doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic. The largest increase was among families with children.

Lynn notes the bill does not grant a right to panhandle, but any municipality seeking to prohibit it could run into other legal hurdles.

‘The bill does not address asking for help in any way," he said. "In point of fact, the right to engage in panhandling is already a right that the US Supreme Court has recognized as a fair exercise of one’s first amendment rights.”

But three Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee joined their Republican colleagues in opposing the bill last month.

The proposal appeared dead until two of those Democrats – Representatives Franklin Cooke (D-New Castle) and Larry Mitchell (D-Elsmere) – agreed to sign onto the bill after Lynn promised to explicitly prohibit car camping on public streets in residential neighborhoods.

State Rep. William Bush (D-Dover), the lone remaining Democratic hold-out on the committee, says he is still undecided.

This week is the final week of this legislative session, and the bill would still need to pass through the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.