4th graders lead charge to stop smoking in private cars

Sam HautGovernment, Headlines


House committee passes bill to penalize people for smoking in a car with children

Students in Leanna Vitti’s fourth grade class at Wilbur Elementary School spoke before the House Health & Human Development committee Monday to advocate for a bill that seeks to stop smoking in cars that contain kids.

House Bill 118, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Hensley, R-Odessa, would create a civil citation for people who smoke in a car that also contains someone under the age 18, whether a window is open or not.

However, if the bill becomes law, police won’t be able to pull someone over solely for that.

Before the bill unanimously passed the committee, seven different fourth-graders talked about how they have been impacted by secondhand smoke and the dangers associated with secondhand smoking.

“One reason is that the smell is very bad and it lingers on the child’s clothing…Another reason is that smokers can expose their children to 4,000 different kinds of chemicals that at least 70 of these chemicals can cause cancer, asthma attacks…that can result from secondhand smoke,” said Natalie Dixon. “Also, smoking in the car with children should be banned because it causes accelerated health issues for young children.”

Cecily Penland said she’s been in a car with a smoker and didn’t like it.

“Kids should have the right to be able to breathe clean air while in the car. Children don’t have a choice because it’s not like they could just say, ‘Oh, it’s okay. I’ll just drive myself,’” Cecily said. “Also, I’ve been in a car with a smoker before and I really don’t like it, it stinks.”

Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow, said he empathizes with the students because his mother, who died three years ago from lung cancer, smoked in the car when he was younger.

“My mother loved us dearly, me and my brother, and we loved our mother dearly, but she smoked with us in the car,” Morrison said. “And we both have allergies, my brother’s very allergic to cigarette smoke. And it’s that addiction that keeps you doing that, and makes it so that you don’t always think about other people. But I know that if this were law, she would have obeyed it because she obeyed the law.”

The bill has four additional sponsors and cosponsors, three Republicans and one Democrat.

There is no fiscal note required for the bill, which now heads to the full House for consideration.

  • Also Wednesday, Senate Bill 52, which would allow the state needle exchange program to give an unlimited number of clean needles to an addict, passed the committee and heads to the full house. It now requires a one-by-one exchange.

According to the fiscal note for the bill, the Department of Public Health estimates that people will need 100 needles per exchange, increasing the amount of needles needed by between 850,000 to 1,360,000 per year. And, at a price of eight to 10 cents per needle, will lead to a cost of $100,000 in the 2024 fiscal year, which would increase by 3% each year.

Bill sponsor Sen. Marie Pinkney, D-Bear, said loosening restrictions on the program would help people whose needs are not currently being met by the existing program.

“The exchange requirement creates a barrier to people trying to access sterile syringes for themselves and is less effective than needs based approaches…When it comes to someone coming into one of these facilities meets their needs are not met means that they’re more likely to use a syringe multiple times,” Pinkney said.

The bill already has passed through the Senate.

  • A bill that requires agencies to report any animal cruelty discovered during child welfare cases also passed.

Senate Bill 71, sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Hansen, D-Middletown, would require law-enforcement agencies, the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families, and the Department of Justice to report to the Office of Animal Welfare.

Related Story: Senators: Animal abuse laws could prevent other forms of abuse

The bill also gives immunity to people who report in cases of animal abuse in good faith.

Chris Motoyoshi, director of the Office of Animal Welfare, said she supports the bill because animal abuse often is a sign of child abuse and vice versa.

  • A bill that creates civil penalties for barking dogs also passed the committee.

House Bill 124, sponsored by Morrison, adds a civil penalty for the first noise complaints received from barking dogs, increased to a $50 fine for the second violation, $100 for a third violation, and $150 for any subsequent violations.

The bill has exemptions if a dog is barking because a person or animal is trespassing on private property, or if the dog is being teased or provoked.

There are also exemptions for dogs that are in an animal shelter, pet store, dog grooming facility, veterinarian office, or animal clinic and if the dog is either training, in an exhibition or performance, hunting or herding.

Morrison said they have received support from the Delaware Police Chief’s council, the New Castle County Police, New Castle County Council, New Castle County executive Matt Meyer, the Wilmington Police Department, the League of Local Governments.

George Smiley, a New Castle County councilman, said that they will work to educate the public if the bill passes.

Rep. Charles Postles, R-Milford, asked Smiley whether animal complaints go any further than local police. Smiley said barking complaints stops with police.

“Part of the reasoning that I felt this belonged with the Animal Welfare and Animal Control, is, if they get a call for a barking dog, and they respond to that,” Smiley said. “They’re the ones that are trained to quickly and efficiently determine whether that dog is in distress, whether it’s being abused, whether there are care issues. And in addition, to check to see if that dog is properly licensed and has the rabies shot.”

David Vance with the Department of Human and Social Services, read a statement from Secretary Molly Magarik outlining the concerns they have about further increasing the workload of the Office of Animal Welfare.

“Since OAW’s creation in 2013, they have been struggling to address a growing need for companion animal related services in Delaware,” Vance said. “This demand has far outstripped what the General Assembly’s task force anticipated when they created its staffing and budgetary structure. As a result, OAW has been at a disadvantage since the beginning.”

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