State House Week in Review: Jan. 30, 2004
Jan 30, 2004, 13:31

The Delaware House of Representatives Majority Caucus is calling for fair and equitable pay supplements for state employees.

The House passed House Resolution 63 on Thursday, Jan. 29, 2004, directing the House Appropriations Committee to study the issue during the Joint Finance Committee break.

The six-week break begins Monday, Feb. 2. The recommendations the committee returns to the House in March will be used to craft legislation to award the supplemental pay.

"Clearly this gives us some additional work to do over the break, but it's work we need to do and I look forward to tackling it," said State Rep. Joe DiPinto, who is the head of the House Appropriations Committee and co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee.

"The bill the Senate sent us dealing with state employee bonuses (SB 199) was significantly flawed," Rep. DiPinto said. "Among other things, SB 199 fails to clearly address questions of part-time employees and employees paid with a mixture of funds from different sources. We need to get the answers before we pass a bill that will cost taxpayers over $18 million."

The Minner administration backs SB 199, which seeks to award $500 to most state employees including many in the highest echelons of government. The measure passed the Senate on Jan. 20 and was assigned to the House Appropriations Committee the following day.

"SB 199 made a late arrival at the House," Rep. DiPinto said. "We have not had the time needed to responsibly execute such an expensive and complicated initiative. It would have been negligent for us to pass this bill in its current form."

"I firmly believe our custodians, our cafeteria workers, our corrections officers, teachers and the other hard-working employees of this state do not deserve a $500 bonus -- they deserve more," Rep. Bruce Reynolds said. "SB 199 ignores that it is the lower-paid employees that need this money the most. I want to come back with an improved package that will reward all state employees, but give larger supplements to the employees at the lower end of our wage scales."

"We're not going to be bullied into making an $18 million mistake," said House Majority Leader Wayne Smith. "It would have been irresponsible to pass a flawed bill with so many questions. We will give state employees the consideration they’ve earned, but we’re going to do it in a deliberative and rational fashion that adheres to sound practices. We want to do this right, so that state employees get the recognition they deserve."

Human Cloning Bill Remains in Committee

After being the subject of one public hearing and two House committee meetings, a controversial bill on human cloning remains in the Health & Human Development Committee.

S.B. 55 would prohibit the use of cloning techniques to produce a human infant. However, the bill would not restrict the use of cloning technologies to produce embryonic stem cells for biomedical and agricultural research.

Some of the committee members continue to have questions about the bill and opted to take advantage of the six-week Joint Finance Committee break to address some of those issues. The committee will take up the bill again sometime after the General Assembly resumes action on March 16.

Task Force to Study Poultry Industry Vulnerabilities

A new 13-member task force will spend the next several months evaluating Delaware's poultry industry.

Created by House Resolution 60, sponsored by State Rep. John Atkins (R-Millsboro), the Poultry Industry Task Force will take the industry’s pulse and offer its diagnosis.

Specifically, the group of poultry company representatives, elected officials and farmers is charged with identifying market trends and industry vulnerabilities, as well as challenges posed by business and environmental regulations. The task force will then draft suggestions for how the state can help the poultry industry deal with its weaknesses.

Approximately 68% of Delaware's cash farm income was derived from broiler chicken production in 2002. Delaware ranks 10th in the U.S. in the number of boilers produced, with Sussex County being the top broiler-producing county in the nation.

The task force is slated to submit its report to the General Assembly by June 1.

House Action on Bills*

House Resolution 61 (Sponsor: Reps. Ulbrich) -- This resolution urges the Delaware Economic Development Office to fund billboards recognizing the importance of the two major auto assembly plants and their employees to the economic success of Delaware. Status: Passed.

House Concurrent Resolution 43 (Sponsor: Reps. Booth & Schwartzkopf, Sens. Bunting & Simpson) -- This resolution would give the committee studying traffic congestion mitigation along the Route One corridor in Sussex County additional time to issue its recommendations. Under HCR 43, the committee would have until July 31 to issue its recommendations. Status: Passed the House. Pending action in the Senate.

Senate Bill 201 (Sponsors: Sen. Cook & Rep. Oberle) -- This bill seeks to increase the state's contribution to the Standardbred Breeder's Fund by $500,000, effective Jan. 1, 2004. Supporters believe the increase will encourage horse breeders to invest in Delaware horse farms, thus saving open space and farmland. Status: Released from the House Appropriations Committee. Ready for action by the full House.

Senate Bill 198 (Sponsors: Sen. Deluka & Rep. Stone) -- Current Delaware law classifies an automatic teller machine as a "branch office", which requires a 30-day installation notice to the bank commissioner. This bill seeks to eliminate that requirement and would make Delaware law more consistent with the federal laws and regulations dealing with ATMs. Status: Passed by the House and Senate. Ready for action by the governor.

House Bill 249 (Sponsors: Rep. Cathcart) -- This bill seeks to ban the retail sale or use of Methyl Tertiary-Butyl Ether (MTBE), or any motor fuel containing MTBE, within Delaware. MTBE is an additive designed to make gasoline burn more efficiently and reduce air pollution. However, the chemical has proven to be a widespread water pollutant. MTBE has found its way into both surface and groundwater across the country through spills, accidents and leaking underground storage tanks. Once in water, MTBE is very soluble and difficult to remove. HB 249 would prohibit any retail dealer or retail fuel outlet governed by 6 Del. C. Chapter 29 from offering for sale or use any fuel containing MTBE. This act would become effective Jan. 1, 2006. Status: Released by the House Land Use and Infrastructure Committee. Ready for action on the House floor.

House Bill 321 (Sponsors: Reps. Lee & B. Ennis) -- This bill would allow volunteer ambulance companies in the state to participate in the State Group Health Insurance Program and the State Employees' Pension Plan to the same extent that volunteer fire companies currently participate. Status: Passed by the House. Sent to the Senate.

House Bill 317 (Sponsors: Rep. Hudson) -- This bill seeks to allow establishments with liquor licenses to sell alcoholic beverages, even when they are catering to clientele that includes underage patrons. Under current law, persons under the age of 21 are admitted to many facilities where alcohol is served (i.e. restaurants, bowling alleys, sports stadiums, etc.). But some entertainment venues with a state liquor license fall under the category of "taprooms", and are thus prohibited from serving alcohol during any event where the crowd includes underage patrons. This amendment will allow those under the age of 21 to attend events in a facility licensed to serve alcohol without compromising the integrity of Delaware's public safety standards on underage drinking. Under the bill, people under 21 would be required to be in a physically segregated area with separate entrances and exits. Status: Released by the House Tourism Committee. Ready for action on the House floor.

House Bill 295 (Sponsor: Rep. Spence) -- Currently, the crime of "possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony" carries a minimum sentence of three years. However, the law draws no distinction between those felons who merely possess a firearm and those who use one for criminal purposes. This bill would leave the current minimum sentence for "possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony" intact, but seeks to add a minimum sentence of 15 years for displaying a firearm, 25 years for discharging a firearm and a life sentence for injuring another person with a firearm while committing a felony. Status: Released from the House Judiciary Committee. Sent to the House Appropriations Committee.

House Bill 309 (Sponsors: Rep. Valihura) -- This proposed state constitutional amendment would modify the provision protecting citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures so that it is identical to the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Recent decisions by the Delaware Supreme Court have indicated that protections granted in the Delaware Constitution may vary from those guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution because our provisions predate the federal constitution and are similar, but not identical, to the federal provisions. This act is intended to fully protect Delawareans from "unreasonable searches and seizures". Status: Released from the House Judiciary Committee. Ready for action by the full House.)

* Partial list, only includes action on selected bills.

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