On January 28, 2021, the Delaware House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 31 in the final step to amend the state constitution to add a prohibition on discrimination according to race, color, and national origin to the Delaware Bill of Rights.
Unlike any other state, the Delaware State Legislature can amend the constitution without a vote of the people. To amend the state constitution, an amendment requires a two-thirds vote of each chamber in two consecutive sessions of the legislature. The amendment does not require the governor’s signature before becoming effective.
The amendment was first introduced as Senate Bill 191 in February 2020. The Delaware State Senate approved the amendment unanimously on June 16, 2020. The Delaware House of Representatives also approved the amendment unanimously on June 25. The amendment was introduced in the 2021 legislative session on January 12, 2021, as Senate Bill 31. It was approved unanimously again on January 21 by the state Senate and on January 28 by the state House.
The amendment adds “race, color, national origin” to section 21 of Article I of the Delaware Constitution. Section 21 was added to the Bill of Rights in 2019 by House Bill 1. With the recent amendment, the section reads: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged on account of race, color, national origin, or sex.”
The Delaware constitution can also be amended through a constitutional convention. The state legislature can refer the question, “Shall there be a Convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?” to statewide ballots via a two-thirds vote in each chamber. If the ballot question receives a simple majority vote, then there will be a convention.
In the other 49 other states, the legislature must refer proposed constitutional amendments to the ballot for voter approval. The states have varying requirements for constitutional amendments originating in the legislatures. Some have multiple different processes with separate sets of requirements:
- Ten states allow a referred amendment to go on the ballot after a majority vote in one session of the state’s legislature.
- Nine states allow a referred amendment to go on the ballot after a 60% supermajority vote in one session of the state’s legislature.
- Seventeen states allow a referred amendment to go on the ballot after a two-thirds (66.67 percent) supermajority vote in one session of the state’s legislature.
- Fifteen states, including Delaware, have a two-session process for proposed constitutional amendments.
- Four of those states (Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) have an either/or system: a proposed amendment must be passed by a simple majority in two separate legislative sessions, or by a supermajority vote of one session.
A full list of the different methods state legislatures can amend their constitutions can be found here: https://ballotpedia.org/Legislatively_referred_constitutional_amendment