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House passes school mental health expansion and crack down on deep fakes, probation reform stalls

State Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D-Wilmington) reads an original poem written about anxiety during a House session on Thursday at Legislative Hall.
Sarah Petrowich
Delaware Public Media
State Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D-Wilmington) reads an original poem written about anxiety during a House session on Thursday at Legislative Hall.

The Delaware House of Representatives passes two bills, one to provide funding for mental health services in high schools and another to criminalize the distribution of deepfakes 90 days before an election.

House Speaker Valerie Longhurst's (D-Bear) legislation builds upon two similar bills passed in prior years that established funding for one mental health professional for every 700 students in elementary and middle schools.

Longhurst's bill would provide funding for one full-time school counselor, social worker or licensed clinical social worker for every 250 high school students within school districts and charter schools and one full-time school psychologist for every 700 students.

“By lowering the ratio, we are increasing access to mental health services inside of our schools for a population that needs these services now more than ever," said State Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D-Wilmington), who cited rising teen suicides, drug use and criminal activities as proof more mental health providers are needed, especially to help lower the rate of youths involved in the criminal justice system.

The act also creates a reimbursement program to encourage current school employees to gain certifications or professional licensure in critical need mental health areas.

The bill passed unanimously among members present and now heads to the Senate for consideration.

During the same session, State Rep. Cyndie Romer (D-Newark) introduced a bill that would criminalize the distribution of deep fake media within 90 days of an election with the intent of harming a party or candidate or otherwise deceiving voters.

A deep fake refers to any audio, video or image portraying an individual doing or saying something that did not occur with the use of artificial intelligence.

While State Rep. Rich Collins (R-Millsboro) says the bill’s intent is a “noble goal,” he’s concerned with people weaponizing the ability to sue during election season, providing a hypothetical scenario.

“It’s near Election Day, and something comes out that may or may not be a deep fake, and you can go to Chancery Court and make a headline that you’ve been attacked for a deep fake. And that’s all the news is going to be – the truth of the matter won’t come out ‘til after the election," he said.

An individual would not face legal action if the deep fake media includes a disclosure statement that the media has been artificially generated.

A violation of the bill would result in a class B misdemeanor, unless the deep fake is intended to cause violence or bodily harm, in which case it would be a class A misdemeanor. If it is a repeat offense within 5 years, the violation would be a class E felony.

The bill ultimately passed with bipartisan support with two Republican representatives abstaining. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.

State Sen. Marie Pinkney's (D-Bear) legislation intending to overhaul Delawar'e probation and parole system was placed on the Senate agenda on Thursday, but following a party caucus meeting, Democrat leaders decided not to run the bill. It currently remains on the "ready list."

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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