Photo: U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi (left) is presented with a book on Delaware's historic makers on his first official visit to the state. Speaker of the House Terry Spence (middle) and State Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View) join him.
In what may have been the first visit by a U.S. cabinet secretary to Legislative Hall, U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony Principi told members of the Delaware House of Representatives that his agency will help Delaware's effort to build a Veterans Home "in any way we can".
"The state is making great progress (towards building a Veterans Home)," Sec. Principi said on Tuesday, March 16, 2004. "The members here are committed to seeing to it that the 35% funding commitment by the State of Delaware is in place so we can get the state on the priority list for (federal) funding in the near future."
Delaware is currently the only state in the Lower 48 to lack such a facility.
According to Antonio Davila, administrator of the Delaware Veterans Commission on Veterans Affairs, the total projected cost of building a Veterans Home would be nearly $25.2 million. The federal government would pay 65% of that total. The required state commitment of 35% amounts to $8.8 million.
Earlier this year, House Republicans proposed fully funding the Veterans Home in the upcoming Bond Bill that will take effect July 1. Gov. Minner has recommended $2.57 million for the project in her proposed capital budget.
"We want to be sure we get that funding this year," Rep. Gerald Hocker said. "We were the state that started this nation and we don't want to be last with our Veterans Home."
Despite the dispute over funding, several free building sites have already been offered for the project.
"Sussex County has offered us ground … (and) New Castle County has made us that same offer," said State Rep. Dick Cathcart, the chair of the House Veterans Committee. "The good thing is that in a state the size of Delaware, no matter where it goes, it's going to serve our veterans well."
Sec. Principi's speech in the House chamber was part of a tour throughout the state with stops in all three counties.
The secretary, who said he came to Delaware at the request of Rep. Hocker, joined him for a town meeting with veterans in Dewey Beach. More than 200 participants turned out for that early afternoon event at the Rusty Rudder.
Action on Bills*
House Bill 230 (Sponsor: Rep. Valihura) -- A bill that seeks to ensure uniformity and fairness at intersections watched by “red light cameras” has passed the House. H.B. 230 would require that the duration of “yellow lights” at such intersections be set in accordance with Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) standards. Rep. Valihura indicated the measure was designed to guard against the possibility that someone might be tempted to ensnare more motorists by shortening the duration of the yellow light. He added that the legislation directs DelDOT to develop a standard that will be used statewide. Status: Passed by the House. Pending action in the Senate Public Safety Committee.
House Bill 304 (Sponsor: Rep. Reynolds) -- This bill makes significant changes to the Delaware Student Testing Program by eliminating the current requirement to test students in kindergarten and first grade. School districts will have the responsibility to assess the progress of kindergarten students and first graders and provide progress reports to parents. Mandatory standardized testing for students in grades 2 through 10 will continue. Status: Passed by the House. Sent to the Senate.
Senate Bill 191 (Sponsors: Sen. Henry, Reps. Ewing, Plant & Williams ) -- This bill would bring Delaware code into compliance with federal law and strive to improve security on the nation’s highways by helping to ensure the safe operation of commercial motor vehicles. Status: Released from the House Public Safety Committee. Ready for action by the House.
House Bill 338 (Sponsor: Rep. Roy) -- This bill clarifies that Internet services are not subject to Delaware’s public utility tax. Status: Released from the House Revenue & Finance Committee. Ready for action by the House.
House Bill 174 (Sponsor: Rep. Maier) -- Among other things, this bill seeks to remove the involuntary commitment process from Delaware law and affirms that admission to the Stockley Center shall be voluntary. The bill would also amend the current sterilization standards by clarifying the scope of persons presumed incapable of giving consent. It also defines "informed consent" and establishes minimal criteria. Status: Released from the House Health & Human Development Committee. Ready for action by the House.
House Bill 282 (Sponsor: Reps Oberle & Quillen) -- HB 282 is intended to preserve the integrity of Delaware’s horse racing industry. It seeks to deter the use of prohibited substances that may give one horse an unfair advantage over its rivals. Under HB 282, owners, trainers, drivers, and claimants of horses would have the opportunity to request competing and/or claimed horses be tested to determine if medication was unlawfully administered. Status: Released from the House Gaming & Pari-mutuels Committee. Ready for action by the House.
House Bill 312 (Sponsor: Reps. Oberle & Caulk) -- This bill would set aside $10 million of Delaware’s slot machine revenues to help the City of Wilmington. HB 312 would also earmark an additional $10 million of slots money to fund the Farmland Preservation Program. Status: Released from the House Gaming & Pari-mutuels Committee. Ready for action by the House.
* Partial list, only includes action on selected bills.