Comment: Update

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HB 290 was tabled and withdrawn. A new bill has been introduced by the House Majority Leader (House Bill 325.)

"For the second time this year, a bill that seeks to clarify that Delaware's county sheriffs and their deputies do not have arrest powers has been introduced in the State House of Representatives.

House Bill 325, sponsored by House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, is similar to a bill stricken last week by State Rep. Dan Short, R-Seaford.

Whether or not county sheriffs have full police powers has been debated for many years. This year's flurry of legislative action on the topic was sparked by a unanimous request from Sussex County Council asking the General Assembly to resolve the unsettled matter.

Council members grew concerned after sheriff's deputies started conducting police-like operations late last year, including making traffic stops and arrests. Two separate opinions from the state attorney general's office, under different administrations, have stated that county sheriffs are not authorized to conduct such work.

A recently released 64-page county council report says that by improperly acting as police officers, sheriff's office personnel could be exposing taxpayers to legal action and large liability awards. To see that report,click here.

Supporters of the Sussex County Sheriff's actions say Delaware's State Constitution describes county sheriffs as "conservators of the peace," granting the office arrest powers.

Both Reps. Schwartzkopf and Short agree that the Sussex County Sheriff and his deputies are acting outside their scope of authority, but differ on the best way to meet county council's request for resolution of the matter.

Rep. Short says that working House Bill 325 is premature. Earlier this week, he filed House Concurrent Resolution 42, which seeks to ask the Delaware Supreme Court to issue an advisory opinion on whether county sheriffs have arrest authority under the state constitution.

Lawyers advising the General Assembly note that the legislature has the ability to seek opinions from the High Court -- authority it has exercised on several occasions over the last three decades.

Rep. Schwartzkopf, who chairs the House Administration Committee, has scheduled both House Bill 325 and House Concurrent Resolution 42 for a hearing before his committee on Wednesday, May 9th at 3 p.m."