Sussex County Delaware

Delaware Legislative
Week in Review
Week in Review, March 28, 2003 ...

Bill Would Crack Down
on Overcrowded Nightclubs
Overcrowded Nightclubs ...

State House Majority Whip Biff Lee has introduced new legislation that would stiffen the penalties against nightclub operators who pack too many patrons into their establishments.

House Bill 112 calls for increasing the penalty for those establishments exceeding their posted occupancy limit. The proposal would deal only with locations rated to hold more than 50 people.

"Currently, any violation of the state's fire prevention regulations draws a fine of $100 per incident," Rep. Lee said. "That's not a very effective deterrent to discouraging dangerous behavior. In fact, some club operators may even be calculating any potential fine into their cost of doing business."

Under HB 112, the fine for overcrowding would range between $10 and $100 for every person exceeding the limit. "The fine structure would allow judges to match the penalty to the situation, with repeat offenders or more egregious violations being treated more harshly," Rep. Lee said.

The legislation was the result of a collaboration with State Fire Marshall Willard Preston.

"Anyone who believes that the stampede at a Chicago nightclub that killed 21, or the Rhode Island fire that claimed 98 lives, couldn't happen here is mistaken," said Rep. Lee, who is a lifetime member of the Laurel Volunteer Fire Company. "If there is anything that my 32 years of fighting fires has taught me, it's that fatal incidents can happen anytime, anywhere and often when you least expect them."

Cell Phone Driving Ban Unjustified ...

A task force formed to look at the issue of driving distractions says there is no justification for banning the use of hand-held wireless phones by motorists.

The Task Force on Driver Distractions and Highway Safety was formed last year after legislation introduced by State Rep. Joe Miro proposed allowing drivers to use only hands-free mobile phones while they were operating their vehicles.

The task force, co-chaired by State Representatives Deborah D. Hudson (R-Fairthorne) and Joseph Miro (R-Foxfire), issued its recommendations this week.

The recommendations include:

  • Expand Delaware's current inattentive driving law to include driver distractions like hand-held cell phone use, grooming, and attending to children. Under the current state law, a motorist who is cited for inattentive driving can be fined between $25 and $115 for a first offense.

  • Require the Department of Education, and private driving education providers, to place more emphasis on driving distractions in their driver's education programs.

  • Prohibit school bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones, except in the event of an emergency or when the school bus is equipped with no other means of communication.

  • Encourage a coordinated effort in educating the public about all driver distractions.
Bill Would Ban Travel to Canada ...

A new bill introduced in the State House Thursday seeks to bar all state-funded travel to Canada during the duration of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Prime sponsor, State Rep. Roger, says House Joint Resolution 7 is an attempt to hold Canadian leaders responsible for the insulting rhetoric they've used to criticize the U.S. effort in Iraq.

Officials belonging to the same ruling party as Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien have been critical of U.S. actions in Iraq and of President Bush specifically.

"I think at this time, seeing the type of treatment our country has been receiving from them it is inappropriate for our state employees to be traveling on state funds going to conferences held in Canada," Rep. Roy said.

Rep. Roy, who also sits on a committee that approves legislative trips, said the group had already decided to restrict travel to Canada. Several legislative organizations are planning to hold events there in the next several months. He says HJR 7 seeks to hold other state employees to the same standard as the one legislators are honoring themselves.

HJR 7 will be debated in the House in the near future. As a Joint Resolution, it also needs passage by the Senate and the governor's signature to take effect.

Change in Primary Date Passes ...

A bill that would change the day Delaware holds its state primary elections has passed the State House of Representatives. By a vote of 34 "yes," 6 "no" and one absent, House Bill 47 cleared the House and now moves on to the Senate for consideration.

The bill's prime sponsor, State Rep. Bob Valihura, says HB 47 would move the date on which all political parties must hold their primary elections from the first Saturday following the first Monday in September, to the second Tuesday in September. The change would avoid the unfortunate situation that occurred last year when the state primary coincided with the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Rep. Valihura said there are some who worry about holding the primary election on a weekday. "A number of people had some concerns with respect to [the availability of] poll workers and safety in the schools," he said. "From my perspective, those things can be worked out. We have 18 months before our next primary [and] all of those things can be worked on between now and then."

In addition to removing a religious conflict, Rep. Valihura believes a weekday primary will likely increase voter participation.

The proposal may also lower the cost of holding the election, since state workers would be paid straight time as opposed to the overtime they receive for a Saturday primary.

First Graders Seek Artist Recognition ...

Felix Darley will finally get some of the recognition he deserves thanks to the persuasive skills of a group of elementary school students.

The House of Representatives and the Senate passed House Concurrent Resolution 7 this week, declaring June 22, 2003 as Felix Darley Day in Delaware. Sponsored by State House Majority Leader Wayne Smith, HCR 7 had been strongly supported by an unlikely group of lobbyists -- the first grade students of Mrs. Anabelle O'Malley's class at Mount Pleasant Elementary School.

Felix O.C. Darley was born in Philadelphia in 1822. By the time he moved to Claymont in 1859, he had already established himself as a gifted illustrator of books and periodicals having done the artwork for Washington Irving's classics, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle. In the years that followed, he did illustrations for works by James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Dickens, among others.

"Sadly, his work and reputation have almost disappeared from public memory," Rep. Smith said. "His life's work deserves to be appreciated and known, particularly in Delaware."

Getting Mr. Darley the acclaim he deserves is only one of the motives behind HCR 7. Mrs. O'Malley said supporting this legislation has given her students a focal point to learn about history, art, literature and the legislative process.

"We visited Darley Manor (and) we had Carol Digel, with the Felix Darley Society, come into class and present some of Mr. Darley's work," Mrs. O'Malley said. "We've (also) been writing letters to House members telling the legislators about why Felix Darley's work is important and why he should be honored."

This is the second time students from Mrs. O'Malley's class have seen a bill they support worked in the General Assembly. Last year, students from Mount Pleasant Elementary successfully campaigned for a bill making "The First State" Delaware's official nickname.

Bills Released from Committee ...
  • House Bill 38 -- Sponsored by State Rep. Joe Miro, this bill calls for all school board elections to be held on the second Tuesday in May from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. It also suggests that day could be an in-service day so as to avoid traffic and safety issues that arise when holding an election in an active school.

  • House Bill 72 -- This bill would eliminate the one-year leave of absence public school teachers can currently take to teach at a charter school. HB 72, sponsored by Rep. Nancy Wagner, would require charter school teachers to resign from public school district employment.
Bills Acted on in House ...
  • House Bill 69 -- Under current law, hunters using muzzle-loading, black-powder rifles to pursue deer must use an "all lead spherical or conical projectile." H.B. 69 would allow the use of projectiles containing materials other than lead, which have proven more effective and humane. Surrounding states, such as Maryland, already allow the use of such projectiles. (Status: Passed by the House.)
  • HB 88 with HA 1 & 3 -- This bill deals with the licensure, certification, and professional development of teachers. Among other things, the legislation would give the Department of Education (DOE) the authority to create, implement, and pilot educator evaluation systems. The bill also seeks transfer regulatory authority for teacher preparation, recruitment and retention from the Professional Standards Board to DOE. (Status: Signed into law by the governor.)
  • SB 15 with SA 1 & 2 and HA 1 -- This bill limits the use and justification of corporal punishment by public school teachers, administrators and school employees. Exceptions to the bill include the use of reasonable and necessary force in order to maintain order and control in the classroom. (Status: Heading to the governor to be signed into law.)
  • House Bill 34 -- This bill would update Delaware's Criminal Code and establish the crime of "threatening a public official" as a Class G felony. People found guilty under the proposed law could face up to two years in jail. This act would also bring all public servants and former public servants, as well as all jurors or former jurors, under coverage of this law providing the threats were related to their official duties. (Status: Passed by the House.)
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