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Delaware Legislative Session Roundup

Like most states, Delaware was plagued with budget difficulties that found legislators and Governor Markell taking drastic steps to fill the hole, including enacting a sports lottery bill that legalizes single-game betting. It becomes the only state other than Nevada to do so. Fortunately, the stimulus pumped $1.2 billion into the state coffers.

Budget, Tax and Stimulus:  To balance the largest budget deficit in state history (over $800 million,) the state cobbled together a mix of tax increases, pay cuts and state employee attrition that totaled more than $200 million dollars in tax and fee increases. The budget was a contentious issue that dragged into special session. Ultimately HB 290 was enacted. It appropriated over $3 billion for 2010. A notable cut was a 2.5% salary decrease for various state employees, including state legislators.

  • SB 190, a bond bill, passed with near unanimous support.
  • HB 295 was a grants-in-aid bill to nonprofit organizations.
  • Cigarette tax: HB 211 increased the cigarette tax from $1.15 to $1.60 per pack.
  • Liquor license tax: HB 210 raised liquor license fees, prohibits liquor sales between 1 AM and 9 AM, and requires a special license to sell alcohol on Sundays. It required and met a 3/5th majority to pass.
  • Estate tax: HB 291, which was enacted with more than a 3/5ths majority, amends the estate tax and calculates the state estate tax using the rate schedule for state tax credits available under federal law in 2001. Another bill (HB 212) to increase the tax on alcoholic beverages failed to meet the 3/5th bar.
  • Unemployment insurance: SB 156 extends UI benefits and HB 170 added the alternative base period to qualify for federal stimulus funding of unemployment benefits.

Energy and Environment:  A number of bills to reduce energy consumption and increase efficiency passed this session:

  • SB 106 requires Delaware’s utilities to reduce their energy consumption 15 percent for electricity and 10 percent for natural gas by 2015, one of the most aggressive targets in the country. Delaware joins nineteen other states with similar Energy Efficiency Resource Standards (EERS).
  • SB 59 updates Delaware’s building codes to increase energy efficiency requirements for new buildings and promotes the construction of “zero net energy” homes and office buildings, which consume less energy than they generate.
  • S.B 85 will encourage energy efficiency by allowing customers who produce more energy than they use to receive credits on future energy bills.
  • SB 49 and HB 70 encourage the use of renewable energy by removing restrictions on solar roof panels and wind turbines.
  • HB 15 is a plastic bag recycling bill that creates an in-store plastic bag recycling program and also requires stores to make reusable bags, available to customers for purchase.

Labor:  To crack down on abuse of workers misclassified as independent contractors, House Substitute Bill 1 for House Bill 230 regulates employers who falsely classify employees as independent contractors with fines up to $20,000 and debarment from state contracts as sanctions.  State and federal government agencies, sole proprietors and single member corporate or business entities are exempt from the legislation.

A number of bills (HB 110, HB 141, HB 145, HB 153)  that would have reduced or redefined the state prevailing wage thankfully failed.

Consumer Safety:  A bill to oversee licensing of manufactured home installation was enacted, as was SB 108, which requires conspicuous disclosure of significant terms of short term loans, provides a right of rescission, and limits the duration of an extension of a loan that a consumer can receive, thereby ensuring that consumers do not mistakenly attempt to use these loans for long-term borrowing. HB 149 limits compensation that may be received by mortgage loan brokers and licensed lenders who engage in mortgage loan modification for homeowners. Meanwhile,  HB 269 requires tobacco vendors to ask for ID if a customer looks younger than 27 years of age.

Education:  SB 68 removes the requirement for the state standardized test and replaces it with a test to be administered at least twice a year from grades 2-10. The student's progress is then assessed from his or her best results from the multiple assessments performed during the year. Another bill allowing Teach for America and similar teacher residency programs to operate throughout the state was also enacted. And SB 151 was also signed, to award additional stimulus funds to schools that significantly close the achievement gap.

Elections:  The Governor signed HB 132 which will allow military and overseas citizens to receive and send absentee ballot applications, absentee ballots and related forms online. The House passed HB 198 to approve the national popular vote, which unfortunately did not advance further. The bill would have allowed the state to award its electoral votes to the Presidential and vice presidential candidates that receive the most popular votes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Another bill that made it past the House (HB 117) would have moved school board elections to coincide with the general election, and to redefine term lengths to align each term with a general election, reducing the cost of holding these elections.

Public SafetyHB 253 establishes the Victims’ Compensation Assistance Program Appeals Board and increases compensation for innocent victims of crimes while HB 160 makes it illegal to present fradulent documents including drivers licenses.

Health:  The state took several measures to improve the health of its citizens and reduce burdensome costs.

  • HB 86 will include HIV testing in the standard battery of tests administered for all pregnant women, on an opt-out basis, which will remove the stigma of requesting HIV tests and reduce neonatal HIV infection rates.
  • SB 35 grants the Delaware Insurance Department the authority to review and approve health insurance rates so that rates are not excessive.
  • HB 112 requires hospitals to honor advance health-care directives and to allow patients to admit desired visitors.
  • SB 120 which would have provided Delaware citizens and out-of-state residents working at least 20 hours a week a government-run single payer health care system, sadly did not pass.

Miscellaneous:

  • False Claims Act:   SB 115 allows for a private individual or labor union to file a private right of action, the state to receive a 10% increase above the state share in all Medicaid fraud recoveries and requires all employers to post a summary of the False Claims Act.
  • LGBT Issues:  SB 121 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, public works contracting, public accommodations, and insurance. The bill also establishes the Superior Court's ability to hear and adjudicate such cases of discrimination.
  • Good Government:  HB 1 allows the public to have access to meetings and records of the Delaware General Assembly except for caucuses. 

Resources:
Recovery Delaware
Delaware Online - Taking important steps for environment