Sussex County Delaware

Delaware Legislative
Week in Review
Week in Review, March 21, 2003 ...

House OKs Measure to
Restrict Smoking Ban
Indoor Smoking Ban Weakened ...

The State House of Representatives has passed legislation to weaken Delaware's ban on smoking in most indoor public places. By a vote of 21-19 with one absent, the House passed an amended version of House Bill 15.

Delaware's Clean Indoor Air Act, which took effect in late November, prohibits smoking in most indoor public venues. Fire halls and fraternal organizations (i.e., Elks Club, Moose Club, American Legion) are currently exempted from the law.

As amended, the bill proposes the following:

  • Smoking would continue to be prohibited in all Delaware restaurants.

  • Smoking would be allowed in bars and taverns, but these businesses would not be allowed to serve any prepared food. Any bar or taproom wishing to serve prepared food would be prohibited from allowing their patrons to smoke.

  • Would allow smoking in up to 50 percent of the gaming areas of Delaware's three slot machine venues. The smoking area would have to be isolated from the rest of the facility and meet specific requirements intended to improve air quality within the area (filtration and air changes).

  • Would allow nursing home residents to smoke in designated smoking areas. These areas would have to meet the same isolation and air improvement requirements as the smoking areas at the casinos. No bar or taproom having started their business after the Clean Indoor Air Act took effect will be allowed to permit smoking.

  • When any bar or taproom in existence prior to the Clean Indoor Air Act is sold, its smoking privileges would transfer along with the ownership of the business. There are about 104 such establishments in Delaware that would be "grandfathered" under the bill.

  • The legislation contains a "sunset" provision. In the event Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland all adopt public smoking laws as strict, or more restrictive, than Delaware's original Clean Indoor Air Act, all the exemptions under the bill would be repealed.

State Rep. Bob Valihura, a leading supporter of the Clean Indoor Air Act, says he's disappointed his House colleagues voted to change a law that has been in effect less than four months.

"We shouldn't even be looking at this until a year from now," he said. "The bill has proven to be one of the more popular bills that I've seen. I get compliments almost every time I'm out."

State Rep. Pam Thornburg, one of the prime sponsors of House Bill 15, says the compromise embodied by the legislation drops a provision she had wanted to allow smoking at bingo game fundraisers.

Attendance at such events would have been limited to adults at least 21 years-old.

"That's probably the biggest thing that bothers me, but I do have a commitment from Rep. Hudson to carefully look at the bingo and non-profit organizations that I wanted to address," she said.

The issue could be addressed in a separate bill.

House Bill 15 now moves to the Senate for consideration, where it is expected to be taken up in the near future.

Report Submitted on Medical Liability Insurance ...

The Medical Liability Insurance Task Force has released its report addressing the current status of medical malpractice insurance in Delaware.

Created by House Resolution 66, the task force met over a six-month period. While significant testimony was presented on both sides of capping non-economic damages, the Task Force is making no specific recommendations.

According to the report, the issue of a cap is " a political decision that is best weighed by the members of the General Assembly."

Additional findings and recommendations:

  • Availability -- With the presence of at least four carriers, two of which are the largest nationally in market share, the prospect for continued availability seems relatively assured.

  • Affordability -- The comparison of the rate data available to the task force leads it to the conclusion that the medical malpractice insurance rates have not reached the adverse impact level although significant increases are being experienced.

  • Stability -- There has been significant turmoil in past years with the loss of several large underwriters. Testimony shows that Delaware has sufficient capacity with its current carriers, two of which are the largest nationally in market share.

  • Regional Situation -- Delaware performance is relatively good in comparison to the region, but carriers make their underwriting decisions based on regional, and, perhaps, national results. It is agreed that action in Delaware will not have a major impact on availability and cost in the short term. The long term requires that Delaware closely monitor the actions taken in the region as to their applicability to Delaware.

  • High Risk Specialties -- There is substantial evidence that the availability for high-risk specialties, specifically obstetrics, in Kent and Sussex counties, are a significant problem. Specific action needs to be taken to improve coverage in these counties.

  • Certificate of Merit -- The general Assembly should adopt legislation with the intent that all health care negligence suits filed shall be accompanied by a certificate stating that there are reasonable grounds to believe medical negligence has occurred.

  • Standards of Damages -- The General Assembly should convene a panel to develop a definitive standard for pain and suffering for use by the courts.

  • Commission -- The General Assembly should create a Commission to study, review and, if necessary, propose the reforms that may be needed to improve and promote patient safety including the ability of the Board of Medical Practice to oversee the quality of care to patients and to ensure a high level of patient safety.

For more information or a complete copy of the report please contact Rodney Brittingham at 744-4260 or 577-5246.

House Leader Blasts Daschle ...

Delaware House Majority Leader Wayne Smith blasted earlier remarks made by U.S. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.

Speaking to members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) on Monday, March 17, the senator from South Dakota said: "I'm saddened, saddened that this President failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this President couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country."

Speaking on the floor of the Delaware House of Representatives on Wednesday, March 19, Rep. Smith (R-Brandywine Hundred North) took several minutes to vent his anger at what he believes is a betrayal of trust by Sen. Daschle.

Rep. Smith said he was appalled by Sen. Daschle's remarks. "I was quite honestly astounded that a Senate Minority leader used the tone and words he did to criticize the President of the United States and the diplomatic efforts of Colin Powell towards dealing with the threat represented by Iraq."

Rep. Smith said elected officials have a responsibility to present a united front during times of war. "I think there is a special responsibility in those times for the leaders of this country to ensure that the troops have the support and stability they need to get their job done (and) that our enemies are convinced of our conviction," Rep. Smith said.

"I was very happy to see (that) Delaware's own Sen. Joe Biden did not join Tom Daschle in those quite embarrassing and astounding remarks, and I was glad to see people like Joe Lieberman (D-CT) repudiate those very same remarks," Rep. Smith said.

Action on House Bills ...
  • Senate Bill 10 is heading for the governor's desk to be signed into law. This bill would make it illegal to sell, offer to sell, transfer, possess or use devices or products designed to defeat photographic enforcement of traffic laws by obscuring or concealing a motor vehicle's license plate. These products include plastic license plate covers and chemical sprays. The bill's prime sponsor in the House is State Rep. Ben Ewing (R-Bridgeville), a former State Police Lt. Colonel.

  • House Bill 37 has been released from a House committee and can now be taken up by the full House for debate. Sponsored by State Rep. Bill Oberle (R-Beecher's Lot), the bill seeks to make .08 the legal blood or breath alcohol concentration threshold for driving in Delaware. The bill has passed the House in previous years, but was blocked in the Senate.

  • House Bill 43 - Sponsored by State Rep. Bill Oberle (R-Beecher's Lot), the bill would allow police to stop motorists for not wearing a seat belt. Not wearing a seat belt is already a violation of Delaware law, but it can only be enforced after police have pulled the vehicle over for another violation. Supporters of the bill note that in other jurisdictions where not wearing a seat belt has been made a "primary offense", seat belt usage has increased and lives have been saved. The bill has been released from committee and can be brought to the House floor for debate.

  • House Bill 68 -- Released from committee this week, this bill seeks to clarify Delaware's laws relating to the licensure and certification of educators. Supporters of the bill feel that problems with the current system have caused some teachers to consider leaving the profession and have created difficulties for school districts, many of which have teachers who will be unable to meet the certification deadlines. H.B. 68, sponsored by State Rep. Nancy Wagner (R-Dover), a former educator, now heads to the House floor for debate.

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