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2008 Session Roundups: Delaware

The Delaware General Assembly completed floor sessions after lawmakers agreed on several measures, including a $3.3 billion state budget; a $601.7 million bond bill; and a $45 million grant-in-aid bill. Unwilling to institute a new tax on hospitals or hike Delaware's alcohol taxes by 50 percent, legislators instead chose to tap a one-time cash windfall and reduce capital spending on higher education, among other programs, to bridge the budget gap.

Consumer Rights:  HB 504 grants increased rights to owners of manufactured homes that sit on property owned by another party.  The legislation was the product of weeks of negotiations between landowners and residents of manufactured home communities.  Delaware joins 13 states who already have legislation in place to protect those living in manufactured home communities.  The compromise legislation gives residents of manufactured-home communities who own their homes, but rent the ground under them, the right of first refusal. If the property owner decides to sell the land, the local homeowners association can make the first offer ”“ and the community owner cannot sell to anyone else for that price or less.  There are provisions for counteroffers that allow the community owner to accept a higher price while maintaining the right of the homeowners to meet that price.

Clean Energy:  Senate Bill 328, which allows an offshore wind farm, breezed through the Delaware legislature and was quickly signed into law. The project is subject to regulatory oversight by the federal government and has won support from area environmentalists. The bill promotes the establishment of clean offshore wind energy, while minimizing the cost concerns related to offshore wind installations and encouraging the execution of offshore wind power purchase agreements for customers by:  (1) Creating a 350% offshore wind renewable energy credit multiplier, (2) Making the 350% renewable energy credit multiplier available for the life of offshore wind contracts, and (3) Spreading both the cost and the benefits of offshore wind power contracts executed by DPL to DPL's entire customer base, rather than only to DPL’s standard offer service customers. Blue Water Wind, builder of the wind farm, is currently trying to sign up additional customers in New Jersey, Maryland, and other big electricity users in Delaware.  The company expects to start providing electricity in 2012.   The project, however, still needs to go thru an extensive state and federal permitting process before Blue Water Wind can begin construction.

Local Economic Development: Governor Minner vetoed SB 245, a bill which would have limited the ability of government agencies to use eminent domain to promote economic development. 

Democracy:  SB 164 continues to allow Delaware voters to participate in the old tradition of writing in candidates on election ballots, but some ballots will no longer count. The legislation allows only declared write-in candidates to be counted. House Majority Leader Richard C. Cathcart, R-Middletown, said the legislation was drafted at the request of the state Department of Elections which has long dealt with bogus write-in candidates, including Mickey Mouse and Superman. The bill also prohibits a write-in candidate from declaring a candidacy for more than one office, and subjects the candidate to campaign finance regulations.

Miscellaneous: HB 424 will require HIV testing of sexual assault defendants under certain circumstances. The bill would amend existing state law to require an accused sex offender to submit to HIV testing within 48 hours of arrest if requested by the alleged assault survivor or a court order. If considered medically appropriate, the defendant also would have to submit to follow-up tests, even if initial tests were negative. Unlike the existing law, some indication that HIV might have been transmitted, such as an exchange of bodily fluids, would not be necessary before a defendant undergoes testing.  This change is necessary for states to remain eligible for federal Violence Against Women Act grants.  However, victims should be ensured of a standard of care which allows for their own testing and retesting and possibly prophylactic treatment.  The state failed to use this opportunity to write clear mandates for the testing and treatment of victims into its victim compensation law.

Bills not Enacted: As lawmakers adjourned the 2008 session, bills that would have made the legislature subject to the state's Freedom of Information Act and made it easier for citizens to challenge the withholding of records or holding of closed-door meetings died of inaction.  Further, HB 481, a measure that would have limited public disclosure of voter information to voter's names, addresses, and date of births and exempted voter rolls from FOIA did not get enacted.  The bill allows parties and candidates to have whatever information the Commissioner of elections chooses, but at a minimum names, addresses, telephone numbers and date of births.  This would have benefited the people of Delaware as no citizen should have to make detailed personal information public in order to exercise their fundamental rights.