The Week in Review from the Delaware House of Representatives for the week ending March 18, 2005:
Bill Seeks to Take Cell Phones from the Hands of Teen Drivers
The State House of Representatives has given the green light to legislation that would put the brakes on cell phone use by some young drivers.
State Rep. Joe Miro (R-Pike Creek Valley) is the prime sponsor of House Bill 63, which seeks to bar any minor with a Level I Learner’s Permit or a Drivers’ Education Learner’s Permit from using a cell phone while driving. Rep. Miro said HB 63 is intended to protect both teen drivers as well as the motorists around them.
"One recent study showed that a teen driver using a cell phone had a reaction time similar to that of a 70-year-old driver,” Rep. Miro said. “That same study showed that when using a cell phone, teens are 18% slower in reacting to brake lights than those that are not on the phone. There have been a number of fatal accidents involving young drivers lately and I believe we need to do whatever we can to ensure that inexperienced drivers are operating their vehicles as safely as possible.”
Any driver found in violation of the legislation would be deemed to be ”operating the vehicle in a negligent manner” and would face a one-month revocation of their license for a first offense and three-month suspension for subsequent violations.
The measure, which now moves onto the Senate, contains a limited exemption for cell phone use in the case of emergencies.
House Flunks Three-tier Diploma
The State House of Representatives has taken action to eliminate Delaware’s three-tiered high school diploma system that’s set to take effect this June.
The 41-member chamber passed House Substitute 1 for House Bill 2 (3/17) on a unanimous vote. The bill calls for maintaining the status quo for 2005. Under the bill, students graduating this year will receive either a traditional diploma or a Distinguished Achievement Diploma, depending on how they score in the state’s standardized testing program (Delaware Student Testing Program - DSTP).
Under HS 1 for HB 2, students graduating every year after this would receive a single diploma.
If the bill is enacted, it would replace the pending three-tier diploma system, which will award diplomas of “basic,” “standard” and “distinguished” based on DSTP scores on tests administered to 10th grade students.
While HS 1 for HB 2 maintains the necessity of meeting or exceeding DSTP benchmarks to earn a diploma, the bill expresses the General Assembly’s intent to develop a new, broader graduation assessment system to more accurately gauge student performance.
"The DSTP has flaws and I believe the community-at-large realizes that,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, State Rep. Pam Maier (R-Drummond Hill). “I feel that passing your courses and passing the DSTP should be accompanied by other indicators but that is for future discussion. This year we’ll maintain the status quo.”
With an eye towards the future, State Rep. Nancy Wagner (R-Dover) has introduced House Joint Resolution 4, which seeks to create a task force to examine successful student performance assessment programs operating elsewhere and provide recommendations by next March for improvement and/or changes to the DSTP.
"We’re now ready for the next generation of assessments – DSTP II or whatever you want to call it,” said Rep. Wagner, who is also a public school educator and chair of the House Education Committee. “We need to look at what other states are doing and what we’re doing to see if we’re doing it the best way to give us the best data with the best incentives to move our students and our school districts forward.”
The Senate will next take up HS 1 for HB 2 for consideration. Rep. Maier said she hopes they deal with the bill soon so that teachers, students, parents and administrators will know what to expect this June.
State Lawmakers Dealing with Manufactured Housing Issues
Installation standards for homes built off-site, rising lease rates for home lots and the regulations governing manufactured homes are among the concerns being examined by a new group of state la
The House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Manufactured Housing met recently at Legislative Hall to consider these issues, drawing a crowd of more than 100 lobbyists, homeowners, state officials and other stakeholders.
Subcommittee chair, State Rep. Bob Valihura (R-Delaware North), says one of the top issues in manufactured housing is actually not garnering much attention from the public yet, but needs to be dealt with the very near future.
"We are mandated by the federal government to put into place by December 31, 2005 standards for the installation of manufactured housing … in the State of Delaware.”
Rep. Valihura says the standards need to tackle such issues as foundations, anchoring and who will be allowed to make installations. He says some state agencies have been working on the issue, but it will require legislative action. “I’d like to see that legislation before we return from our Easter Break.”
Rep. Valihura said failing to meet the deadline could be very troublesome. “A whole (array) of problems could result, maybe even the proposed banning of the installation of any manufactured homes in the state subsequent to December 31st. I’m concerned about that, I know the [manufactured housing] industry is concerned about that, and anyone who wants affordable housing in this state should be concerned about it. So, this is going to be a top priority before we [end the legislative session] on June 30th.”
The subcommittee also heard testimony from homeowners frustrated over having their homes regulated, both by the Division of Motor Vehicles and by local building codes. “It’s troubling because you have regulation and oversight on two separate fronts for these homeowners,” Rep. Valihura said. “They’re being treated as homeowners and yet [their homes] are being regulated as vehicles. We need to come to grips with this and consolidate this and treat it like what it is and regulate these homes as property, not vehicles.”
Two ideas were floated to help homeowners deal with some of the challenges they face. One suggestion is to create a state commission or ombudsman that would act as an information resource and advocate for homeowners. “It’s a novel area,” Rep. Valihura said. “We do have guardians or ombudsman in other areas of Delaware law and I think its something that does merit some discussion with the various parties.”
Rising lease rates, especially in eastern Sussex County, where real estate values have been escalating in recent years, have caused some to call for the formation of a “rent justification board.”
Ed Speraw, president of the Delaware Manufactured Homeowners Association, said under one such system lot lease increases would be linked to the local Consumer Price Index (CPI). He said rent hikes equal to or below the CPI would not require any action from the board, but landlords wishing to raise their rents beyond the index would need to show a need for the action.
"They could increase [lot rents] past the CPI as long as they could show the justification for it. Are they putting in new roads? Are they doing lighting? … What improvements are they making to the community?”
Rep. Valihura indicated his subcommittee may hold their next meeting in Sussex County, which has the highest percentage of manufactured housing in the state.
Children Honored for Their Efforts to Help Family of Fallen Trooper
The House of Representatives recently (3/17) presented House Tributes honoring two youths for their altruistic efforts to raise money benefiting the family of a state trooper who was killed by a drunk driver.
Corporal Christopher M. Shea died in an early morning accident last July on Del. 1 when his cruiser was struck head-on by a car driven by Philip Healy. Mr. Healy, who was also killed in the accident near Milford, reportedly had a blood alcohol level more than four times the legal limit.
On learning that Cpl. Shea left a wife and two children behind, Mathew Vasco and Christian Conaty decided to sell lemonade to help them. The two boys opened a stand on Labor Day weekend in front of the Starboard Restaurant in Dewey Beach, raising more than $600 for Cpl. Shea’s family.
Action on Bills*
House Bill 16 - (Sponsors: Rep. Ewing) – Only ½ of 1 percent of all law enforcement officers in the free world are invited by the Director of the FBI to attend the FBI National Academy. This bill would allow an academy graduate to have a special license plate on his or her motor vehicle. Status: Passed the House. Pending action in the Senate Public Safety Committee.
House Bill 34 - (Sponsors: Rep. Buckworth) – This bill seeks to create a special organ and tissue donor awareness license plates. The plate would cost $50, $35 of which would be used to fund organ and tissue donor awareness and transplantation. The remaining $15 of the one-time fee would be used to pay for the creation and promotion of the plates. Status: Passed the House. Pending action in the Senate.
House Bill 68 - (Sponsors: Rep. Hudson) – This bill would clarify that the Thoroughbred Racing Commission Chapter does not apply to steeplechase races held as part of an annual event by a non-profit organization that has done so since 1978. Status: Passed the House. Pending action in the Senate.
House Bill 59 - (Sponsors: Reps. Spence, Oberle & Lee) – This bill is enabling legislation that would establish a uniform pay plan for Delaware State Police Dispatchers. Status: Released from the House Public Safety Committee. Pending action in the House Appropriations Committee.
House Bill 70 - (Sponsors: Reps. Lavelle) – HB 70 would establish a license plate to benefit Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children. The design of the plate would be submitted by the hospital and any profit generated from its sale would benefit the institution. Status: Pending action in the House Public Safety Committee
House Bill 72 - (Sponsors: Reps. Oberle, Ulbrich and Sen. McBride) – This act seeks to implement the recommendations for the Board of Examiners of Nursing Home Administrators made by the Joint Sunset Committee during its 1998 review of the board. Status: Pending Action in the House Policy Analysis & Government Accountability Committee
House Bill 73 - (Sponsors: Reps. Oberle, Ulbrich and Sen. McBride) – This act would amend Titles 24 and 29 of the Delaware Code to implement the 2000 Joint Sunset Committee recommendations for the Council on Real Estate Appraisers. Status: Pending Action in the House Policy Analysis & Government Accountability Committee.
House Bill 75 - (Sponsors: Reps. Ulbrich and Sen. McBride) – This bill would reorganize and revise the Medical Practices Act pursuant to the recommendations of the Joint Sunset Committee. Status: Pending Action in the House Policy Analysis & Government Accountability Committee.
House Bill 77 - (Sponsors: Rep. Hudson, et. al.) – This Bill designates the stonefly (Order Plecoptera) as the official State macroinvertebrate. Status: Pending action in the House Administration Committee.
House Bill 79 - (Sponsors: Rep. Roy) – This act would facilitate the electronic filing of real property transactions in the office of the Recorder of Deeds. It would also permits the Recorder of Deeds to index, store, and transmit documents electronically and convert paper documents into an electronic form. Status: Pending action in the House Housing and Community Affairs Committee.
House Bill 82 - (Sponsors: Reps. Atkins & Ewing and Sen. Vaughn) – This bill seeks to require that all cabinet secretaries for the State of Delaware become permanent residents within six months of their appointments. Status: Pending action in the House Administration Committee.
House Bill 83 - (Sponsors: Rep. George, et. al.) – This act would prohibit Internet hunting in Delaware. Under HB 83, it would illegal to shoot or kill any bird or animal in the First State with any gun or other device operated by remote-control or accessed via an Internet connection. Status: Pending action in the House Natural Resources and Environmental Management Committee.
House Bill 84 - (Sponsors: Rep. Williams, et. al.) – This bill would allow for compensation for mental health services for victims of crimes in which the offenders may be released pursuant to the Evans v. State decision. It would be available to those victims for one-year prior to, or two-years after, the release of the offender and would be retroactive to the date of the Supreme Court’s decision in that case. Status: Pending action in the House Judiciary Committee
House Bill 90 - (Sponsors: Rep. Keeley, et. al.) – This legislation seeks to update and strengthen the unfair business practices section of the Delaware Insurance Code, in three ways. First, it would raise financial penalties associated with unfair business practices. Secondly, insurance carriers would be required to respond to the Insurance Department in a timely fashion when the department makes inquiries on behalf of Delaware consumers. Lastly, the bill would prevent health insurance carriers from imposing bad faith documentation requirements upon health care providers seeking to be reimbursed for their services. Status: Pending action in the House Economic Development, Banking & Insurance Committee.
* Partial list, only includes action on selected bills.
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