From gun controls to marijuana laws (Scott Goss)
Photo of Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) at the podium, wielding a gavel.
Many important bills are on the docket (especially in the Senate, where Democrats only have a one-vote edge), and with only 13 work-days left in this session it’s unlikely that all them will get a floor vote. So the race is on to see who can get their measure(s) though both the House and the Senate before time runs out.
The legislature is looking at a big budget surplus this years, so lawmakers shouldn’t be distracted by fighting over spending cuts and tax increases like they were last year. Still, there is a notable backlog of important legislative proposals (some of which have been covered in prior News Journal stories, and some of which have been proceeding under the radar).
#GUN CONTROLS - Several bills were already enacted, e.g., “temporary” gun seizures on recommendation of healthcare professionals. Proposed assault weapons ban has languished in committee for months, unclear whether supporters have the votes to push it through. Also in the pipeline: bump stock ban, raising age for purchase of long guns to 21, ban on high capacity magazines, and “temporary” gun seizures on recommendation of family members or the police.
#SCHOOL SAFETY – Senate Bill 65 introduced by Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), which will “likely be dead on arrival” due to the $65M funding involved plus fact that schools would have to add two armed security guards to unlock their share of the funding. An alternative proposal by Rep. Earl Jacques (D-Glasgow) would require all new school or major renovation projects to include safety features such as bulletproof glass, secured vestibules and lockable classroom doors. The latter bill (which arguably would require 20 years to take full effect) has passed the House and is awaiting action in the Senate.
#BUDGET SMOOTHING – This proposal would require a DE constitutional amendment, and a panel of economists and elected officials also recommended “a series of tax reforms” that would result in Delawareans (notably seniors) paying higher taxes. Threshold problem is that the details are still under wraps, although this article states that a bill for the constitutional amendment could be introduced “soon.” If it's introduced at the last minute, forget it!
#ERA – The proposed constitutional amendment fell short of the 2/3 vote required in the Senate, but it is expected to be brought up again this month.
#CRIMINAL LAW RESTATEMENT – This bill is the end result of a multi-year study. Proponents say it would “streamline the rules that cover more than 200 felonies and misdemeanors into a document that is clear and accessible to police, the courts and the police. However, a 2/3 vote would be required and outgoing Attorney General Matt Denn has been “steadfast in his opposition.” Sen. Greg Lavelle (R-4th District) now says to “hit the brakes” on the effort in order “to allow the Attorney General’s office to fully review and comment on these final bills,” i.e., let's leave this matter to be reviewed by the next AG.
#FISCAL BILLS – Notwithstanding the budget surplus, there are spending and tax issues to be resolved. Proposed $20M per year reduction in state share of casino revenues because the casinos are losing money, but Speaker Schawartzkopf thinks this is too much – especially now that the US Supreme Court has cleared the way for states to authorize betting on individual sporting events. Partial adjustment to last year’s increase in the real estate transfer tax from 3% to 4% (by giving a lower rate to first time home buyers). Proposed tax increases on prescription opioids (dueling Democratic and Republican proposals), supposedly as a way to force drug manufacturers to pay for addiction treatment in Delaware. Proposed raises and bonuses for state employees, maybe including an upward adjustment to pensions (bad idea as DE can look forward to a long-term problem with meeting pension obligations, probably needs to switch to 401-Ks for younger employees). Gov. Carney’s proposal of 12 weeks of paid family leave for state employees (another bad idea).
#OTHER POSSIBILITIES – Mandated coverage of additional services (e.g., in vitro fertilization) in DE healthcare insurance plans; this bill passed the Senate unanimously and is awaiting House action. Assisted suicide bill is strongly opposed, may not make it. Sen. Robert Marshall (D-Wilmington) supports a DE minimum wage increase, basically whatever he could get legislators to vote for. A revised bill to legalize “recreational” marijuana is being prepared; it will seek to build on the March recommendations of a task force that studied the issue after a previous effort fell short in 2017. And “dozens of other bills are waiting in the wings.”