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Draft bill would strike all references to gender in state law

Sam HautGovernment, Headlines

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A bill that would remove gendered language from law gets council approval.

A legislative council voted Wednesday to create a bill that would allow all references to gender to be removed from Delaware law.

The Joint Legislative Council, a bipartisan committee, unanimously approved a draft bill that would remove terms like he, she, his, hers with a noun that does not express gender.

For example, in Title 14, Section 170, a student identification number is defined as “the unique identification number assigned to each student in the State under which his or her student records are maintained.”

The his or her in that section would be changed to just say the student.

The process is referred to as creating a gender silent Delaware Code, and is being discussed or happening across the country.

Proponents say it makes laws clearer and less wordy.

While the bill itself hasn’t yet been released, Carolyn Meier, a Delaware code editor, said that if passed, it would require editing of state code as well as require removing references to gender in all future bills.

As volumes of the Delaware code are replaced, Meier said, they would be checked to make sure they were gender silent.

“Even if we’ve got bills that have already been released and are under discussion, if they are passed after this bill, they will be made gender silent by the revisors during their editing process,” she said.

Ultimately, the entire code will be rewritten.

“It’s just a matter of time,” Meier said.

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Mark Cutrona, director of the Division of Research, said that the code was originally changed to be gender neutral in 1995. That meant adding the word she in places where code said he.

When looking through the code recently, he said researchers found about 50 sections of the code that weren’t gender neutral.

Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark, mentioned that one part of the bill would change “his debt” to “the debt,” and Cutrona said that change also helps with clarity.

“Part of the problem with using he or she sometimes is that it becomes unclear which actor the he or she is referring to,” Cutrona said. “And in that case we could not figure it out, and so we went extra neutral and just said the debt.”

House Minority Leader Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden, asked about how the bill came about.

Cutrona said that the research department noticed that there were places in the code that were not gender neutral or silent and decided to ask for the law. He said Delaware Code Revisors Dan Wolcott and Jamie Sharp, who were appointed by the legislature, agreed with it.

The current law dictates what revisors are and aren’t allowed to change when editing a bill.

Meier said that few states have made the decision to move to gender silent language, but many more are at least discussing it.

Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, said the bill will help with clarity and it will be good to update language that just says he.

“I think it’s more efficient to put in there, especially when I see that it’s just he in some of these, and we assume it’s just a male,” Longhurst said. “I can’t believe that language is still in there.”

The change won’t affect any legislation being drafted, she said.

“We can allow our attorneys to go ahead and start doing this,” she said. “So I think that’s what we’ll probably direct our attorneys in the House to do.”

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