The Delaware SEED Scholarship, public disclosure of hospital data, annexation and other land use changes as well as an increase in the cigarette tax highlight Governor Ruth Ann Minner's 2005 legislative agenda.
"More than ever, I am focusing on issues and initiatives that will make a difference in the years to come. And, as I have said, I am willing to take on some of the tough or thorny issues," Gov. Minner said.
As part of the rollout of her agenda Tuesday, Gov. Minner announced the proposed requirements for the Delaware SEED Scholarship, which would pay the tuition toward an associate's degree at Delaware Technical and Community College.
"After discussions with Sen. McDowell and Rep. Wagner, who have long been proponents of a scholarship program, we have agreed that the requirements for eligibility should be a high school diploma with a 2.5 grade point average, no criminal record, and enrollment as a full-time student at Del Tech," Gov. Minner said. "In my mind, this scholarship program provides inspiration and motivation for students who might not have contemplated college before."
Gov. Minner's other education bills this year are creation of a teacher mentoring program that would allow retired teachers to guide new teachers and elimination of the three-tier diploma, replacing it by 2007 with a diploma system based on the Delaware Student Testing Program as well as "other indicators." The Governor will also continue to pursue full-day kindergarten in her budget.
In health care, Gov. Minner proposed requiring hospitals to keep and disclose data on the outcome and cost of common courses of treatment, allowing for comparison between facilities.
"In a country where we make decisions about what car or stereo to buy based on quality and cost comparison, there is no reason why we should not have the same type of information available when facing a medical procedure," Gov. Minner said.
Fulfilling a recommendation of the 2002 cancer task force, Gov. Minner said Tuesday Delaware should increase the cigarette tax to 74 cents per pack in order to reduce and discourage teen smoking. The current tax in Delaware is 55 cents, but surrounding states are a dollar or more.
"Let me be clear: I view this proposal as a health issue, not a revenue issue. The increase in the cigarette tax from 24 to 55 cents two years ago has helped reduce teen smoking," Gov. Minner said. "While I will not propose that this new revenue be earmarked, if such discussions occur, I would prefer that it be limited to something health-related. On the other hand, the revenue from an increased cigarette tax may well make it easier to cut other types of taxes, such as the gross receipts tax."
An aggressive list of Livable Delaware land use legislation includes new restrictions on annexation statewide along with an easing of old, onerous restrictions placed on annexations by the city of Wilmington. Also on the Livable Delaware list: creating a statewide Transfer of Development Rights program; allowing for forestland preservation; and restricting the issuance of subdivision septic systems that contribute to sprawl and poor water quality.
The Governor's legislative agenda for the year also includes:
Incentives for use of solar, wind and hydropower energy;
A requirement that diesel fuel in the state be 2 percent biodiesel;
A plan to increase household recycling, to be announced;
Creation of a statewide health insurance buying pool;
Reform of the workers compensation system;
Campaign finance reform requiring disclosure of funders of issue advertising;
Banning discrimination based on sexual orientation;
Creation of the Office of Management and Budget;
Restrictions on teen drivers in the wake of a series of deadly accidents; and
Possible legislation arising from reports and recommendations on prison security and staffing.
The full list and description of the Governor's 2005 legislative agenda can be found online at www.state.de.us/governor/agendas/index.html.
Governor Ruth Ann Minner's 2005 Legislative Agenda
Assurance of a college education for Delaware students. In her State of the State address, Gov. Minner proposed the establishment of the Delaware SEED Scholarship ("Student Excellence Equals Degree"). The goal is to encourage all students with the promise of a college education if they perform well in school, earn a diploma and stay out of trouble. The program will provide tuition for students pursuing an associate's degree at Delaware Technical and Community College. To be eligible, a student must graduate from high school with at least a 2.5 grade point average, be enrolled full-time in pursuit of an associate's degree at Delaware Technical and Community College, and have no criminal record. Sen. Harris McDowell and Rep. Nancy Wagner will sponsor the SEED legislation.
Teacher mentoring. The Governor is working with the State Department of Education to develop a teacher mentoring program. Providing mentors for newer teachers is a good way to keep them in the profession, and avoid the cost and disruption of attrition. A focal point of the Governor's initiative will be using retired teachers as a corps of mentors, which will keep teachers in the classroom, help save on substitute costs and allow retired teachers to further contribute to the development of the profession.
A high school diploma system that represents true student achievement. Gov. Minner's proposal replaces three-tiered diploma with a standard high school diploma and a distinguished achievement diploma. For students graduating in 2005 and 2006, current coursework requirements will need to be met for a standard diploma and an index score of 4 or better in three subjects on the Delaware Student Testing Program will be needed for a distinguished diploma ("other indicators" will be used for distinguished diploma in 2006). For graduation 2007, state coursework requirements will be increased and a DSTP index score of 3 in five subjects will be needed for a standard diploma and 4 for a distinguished, with other indicators in place as well. The Governor will work with the General Assembly, educators and parents to ensure that a Delaware diploma reflects a quality education.
Curbing youth smoking. Delaware has made strides in slowing the sale of cigarettes to youth in recent years. Indeed, federal regulators have lauded Delaware's efforts. Studies show that an effective deterrent to youth smoking is the cost. Consistent with the previous recommendations of the Cancer Task Force, the Governor will support legislation to impose an additional tax of 19 cents per pack, bringing the total cigarette tax to 74 cents per pack. The cigarette tax is a dollar or more in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Buying pool for health insurance. In her State of the State address, Gov. Minner said she would work toward creating a health insurance buying pool so that the uninsured and underinsured would have a chance of getting affordable health insurance. The Governor's office has been working with interested parties in crafting legislation to develop an insurance buying pool and expects a proposal to be forthcoming.
Increasing the availability of health information for consumers. Currently, data on the outcome and effectiveness of hospital treatment is not disclosed to the public, so patients families and consumers do not have any way to evaluate which health care facility does the best or most cost-effective job in each area of treatment. Gov. Minner's proposal will ensure that price information for commonly performed hospital procedures will be collected and made available to citizens. This is designed to provide valuable information to patients as well as encourage fair and consistent pricing and help hold down health costs.
Developing sound annexation policy. In 2001, Gov. Minner passed legislation to enhance annexation standards throughout the state that have halted uncontrolled growth in areas that are not appropriate. This year, the Governor will propose additional changes to annexation policy, requiring that municipalities have their comprehensive plans certified by the State Planning Office in order to annex property and making it easier for the City of Wilmington to annex.
Transfer of development rights. Transfer of Development Rights programs protect an area's rural character and landowners' equity by the private purchase of development rights and the transfer of those rights into municipalities and other areas that are most prepared for growth. Although there have been scattered attempts to use TDR at the local level, a statewide TDR program featuring a bank and incentives would facilitate land preservation in all three counties – at virtually no cost to taxpayers.
A fire code that promotes redevelopment and livable communities. Gov. Minner will work with legislators, the State Fire Prevention Commission, architects and builders to ensure that the state's fire code protects lives while encouraging redevelopment and new neighborhoods with a "traditional" design.
Protecting forestland. This legislation will protect vital state forestland by allowing the Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation to protect forested areas as well as farmland.
Limiting the development of community septic systems. Large residential developments can sprawl into rural areas, threatening fragile habitats and generating traffic, when community septic systems are installed that allow increased density. In many cases, these developments are built next to farms and open space the state spent millions to preserve. Gov. Minner will support legislation that restricts the ability to install these large community septic systems in rural areas that have been targeted for preservation and natural resource protection.
Environmental covenants. Gov. Minner proposes improving and expanding existing law that permits the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to use easements and other land use rights to preserve open space and other resources. Existing law can better be tailored to address remediated properties and properties with environmental histories so as to further encourage the re-development of brownfields and similar properties.
Environment and Energy
Increasing recycling in Delaware. Gov. Minner set a statewide goal of 30 percent diversion of residential solid waste from Delaware landfills. Most critically, New Castle County's Cherry Island landfill has an estimated life expectancy of only 5 more years unless significant changes occur, including increased residential recycling beyond the current rate of 4 percent. She is working with recycling advocates, local governments and others to develop a workable recycling program.
Strengthening industrial responsibility. Gov. Minner will propose legislation to ensure that transfers of large-scale facilities that handle hazardous products be undertaken only with the assurance that all significant environmental hazards have been or will be addressed by the party or parties responsible. Thirty other states have laws requiring disclosure of environmental hazards on the transfer of potentially hazardous facilities and Delaware needs similar controls.
Promoting energy efficiency in state facilities. Gov. Minner will pursue legislation to help state agencies and school districts better conserve energy through performance contracting. Performance contracting enables private sector contractors to install energy efficient equipment in existing facilities (such as lighting, HVAC systems, windows) with the guarantee that energy consumption will be reduced to the point where savings will pay for the new equipment. Performance contracting enables the implementation of capital improvements without tapping an already tight capital budget.
Encouraging the use of renewable energy resources. This legislation will create real incentives for the use of renewable energy resources. Gov. Minner's proposal will develop and adopt minimum standards for the use of renewable energy resources such as solar, wind and hydropower.
Biodiesel fuel. Gov. Minner has proposed requiring that all diesel fuels sold in the state be 2 percent biodiesel. Biodiesel blends are made from natural products like soy, and burn cleaner than other diesel fuels.
Open container legislation. Gov. Minner continues to support legislation to ban the possession of open alcohol containers in passenger compartments of vehicles. House Bill No. 37, sponsored by Rep. Wagner, bans open containers and is a common-sense way to prevent and deter drinking and driving. In addition, the adoption of this legislation will ensure that the state continues to receive up to $2.7 million in federal highway funds annually.
Ensuring safety for teen drivers. The Governor will support further changes to the state's graduated license program. The tragic deaths of young drivers in recent months underscore the need for young people to understand the seriousness of operating a motor vehicle. Gov. Minner will support legislation to limit the number of passengers in a teen driver's car, to prohibit the operation of cellular phones by young drivers (House Bill 63), and to extend the time a person has a learner's permit during any period that such driver has his or her license suspended.
Implementing recommended changes at the Department of Correction. Gov. Minner has been working with the Department of Correction to implement changes recommended by the Task Force on Security Issues at the Delaware Correctional Center. While most of these recommendations involve budgetary or administrative changes, there may be some recommendations that require legislative changes as well. If legislation is needed to implement Task Force recommendations, Gov. Minner will work to pass such legislation.
Improving in-building coverage for emergency communications. Gov. Minner will propose legislation requiring that large buildings and structures are designed and built in a manner to better ensure in-building coverage for the state's 800-megahertz emergency radio system.
Workers compensation reform. Delaware's workers compensation premiums are too high. Because Delaware currently has workers compensation rates exceeding those of other states, reform of the system is necessary to ensure that Delaware continues to attract and retain business that purchase workers compensation insurance. The Governor is developing proposals to address the high cost of workers compensation insurance by controlling the high medical costs currently associated with workers compensation claims in the state.
Protections For Those Who Serve And Protect Citizens
Stronger protections for law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The loss of Corporal Christopher Shea last fall made clear that the state needs to better protect the families of those that serve our State as law enforcement personnel. Gov. Minner will push for legislation to provide that any time a trooper is killed in the line of duty, his or her family will be protected – regardless of years of service – in terms of continued medical coverage and pension benefits for dependents. This protection is the very least we can offer to the families of those who place their lives on the line for our safety.
Provision of life insurance for activated National Guard personnel. The men and women of the Delaware National Guard are risking their lives daily in the protection of our nation. Gov. Minner, along with State Treasurer Jack Markell and Insurance Commissioner Matt Denn, propose that the state pays the cost for life insurance for Guard personnel called to active duty. Utilizing the Servicemembers Life Insurance Program, House Bill No. 69, sponsored by Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf and Sen. Thurman Adams, will ensure that those called into active service will be protected.
Providing for fair and equal treatment regardless of sexual orientation. Gov. Minner will work for the passage of House Substitute 1 for House Bill No. 36, which will prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bill Oberle, is about ensuring fair and consistent treatment for all of our citizens and it should be passed.
Creation of the Office of Management and Budget. This will consolidate the Office of State Personnel and a large portion of the Department of Administrative Services with the Office of the Budget to form a new Office of Management and Budget. A residual portion of the Department of Administrative Services will be placed under the Department of State. This proposal will centralize the authority to manage major state assets including people, financial resources, land use planning and state facilities. In addition, this proposal is expected to generate operating budget savings through the consolidation of four cabinet agencies into two.
Fairness in state contracting. Gov. Minner will propose legislation to have reciprocal treatment out-of-state contractors. The bill will provide that where in-state and out-of-state firms compete for state business, Delaware firms will enjoy whatever preference or advantage in Delaware that an out-of-state contractor would get in its home state.
Reform of state disability program. The state's current disability pension program is outdated and does not provide any benefits to employees with less than five years of service. It also does not provide what is considered an adequate disability pension to most individuals with less than 25 years of state service. Gov. Minner proposes overhauling the current program, creating one that would provide a better benefit for employees through a continuum of short and long-term disability benefits. Further, the new program would be more cost effective to the state than the current program. The Governor is working with the State Employees Benefit Committee, the Pension Benefit Review Committee and the Board of Pension Trustees to develop legislation implementing program changes.
Campaign finance reform. On a daily basis during last year's campaigns, citizens were bombarded with political advertisements – paid for by unnamed surrogates for candidates – which attacked a candidate for office. Such advertising relies on loopholes in current Delaware law; right now, if an ad does not say "vote for" or "vote against" a particular candidate, it avoids scrutiny under the Delaware campaign finance laws. Those parties and groups that try to influence Delaware elections through so-called "issue advertising" need to play by the same rules as candidates and political committees. This bill also states that if an innocuous-sounding organization running political ads is primarily funded by just a few sources, those big donors must be listed in the ad.