Week in Review, April 11, 2003 ...
False Fire Alarm Bill
Passes House, Senate
False Fire Alarm Bill Passes ...
A bill on its way to the governor would hold the owners of faulty fire alarms accountable for the false alarms sounded by their equipment.
According to Delaware State Fire Marshall Willard Preston, electronic alarm systems account for nearly 26 percent of all firefighter dispatches in Delaware. Ninety-nine percent of these alarms are false.
State Rep. Biff Lee, a volunteer firefighter in Laurel for more than 30 years, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 57. H.B. 57 would fine the owners of an alarm system that sends more than three false alarms per year.
The fourth false alarm would draw a $100 fine, a fifth false alarm $200, and any erroneous alarm after that $250.
Such an approach has proven effective elsewhere, including the City of Dover, which has an ordinance similar to House Bill 57. Mr. Preston said after several years of having the ordinance in place, the number of false dispatches caused by erroneous alarm systems was cut by more than half.
If the governor signs the bill into law as expected, the new law would take effect at the start of 2004.
Smoking Modification Defeated ...
Any attempt to significantly alter the Clean Indoor Air Act will likely have to wait until next year. The State Senate has defeated House Bill 15, which had sought several exemptions to the almost total ban on smoking in indoor public places.
Despite earlier indications that the vote would be close, HB 15 was defeated by a fairly wide margin with only seven senators voting in favor of the bill, against 14 who opposed the measure.
House Bill 15 would have allowed smoking in bars and taprooms, providing these businesses did not sell any prepared food. The exclusion would have affected about 100 Delaware businesses. It would also have allowed smoking in up to 50% of the gaming area at Delaware's three slot machine venues. (The areas would have been required to be isolated from the rest of the facilities with requirements for filtering, venting and changing the air inside.)
State Rep. Bobby Quillen, one of the prime sponsors of HB 15, said the bill's defeat will likely mean there will not be any significant challenge to the Clean Indoor Air Act this year, although he would not entirely rule it out.
Supporters of the Clean Indoor Air Act have repeatedly said the law should stand unchanged for at least one year to properly gauge its impact. The law took effect on November 27, 2002. "We'll look at the numbers [and] we'll get a judgement from the public [as to] whether they're accepting this," said State Rep. Deborah Hudson, a lead sponsor of the Clean Indoor Air Act. "I personally think they will. But a year is what we asked for before and I think that in a year's time it will appropriate to look at it again."
Bar and taproom operators - especially those with establishments near the state's borders - had claimed the smoking ban was causing them to lose significant business. They also said some of their customers had fled to in-state fraternal organizations (i.e. - Elks Club, Moose Club, American Legion) that are exempted from the law.
One narrow exception to the indoor smoking ban that will be introduced in the near future is a measure that would allow nursing home residents to smoke. State Rep. Wally Caulk says these facilities, while being accessible to the general public, are also the private dwellings of the residents. He said barring these residents from smoking inside forced many elderly people into frigid conditions over the winter.
Rep. Caulk's proposal would allow smoking in nursing homes solely in designated smoking areas that would operate with requirements similar to what had been proposed for the slots venues.
Bills Acted on in House ...
- House Bill 27 -- The House has passed legislation to create the new offense of "cyberstalking." The new crime would apply to any person who intentionally engages in a course of conduct by any type of electronic communication (e-mail, computer bulletin board, telephone, etc.) that would cause reasonable people to fear physical injury to themselves or others. Cyberstalking would be a Class F Felony, carrying a maximum prison sentence of three years. If a death threat or a threat of serious physical injury were part of the crime, the offense would rise to a Class D Felony, carrying a top sentence of eight years. The measure is sponsored by State Rep. Nancy Wagner. (Status: Passed the House and moves onto the Senate for consideration.)
- House Bill 48 -- Sponsored by State Rep. Jerry Buckworth, this bill eliminates the requirement that someone who is on probation or parole, and wants to get married, receive written consent from judicial officials. Before being passed by the House, the bill was amended to retain the requirement for someone who is on parole or probation for the crime of domestic violence or is classified as a perpetrator of domestic violence. (Status: Passed by the House and moves onto the Senate for consideration.)
- House Bill 50 -- The House has passed a bill to create the Delaware Aviation Advisory Council. The measure, sponsored by State Rep. Bill Oberle, would form the council to assist the Office of Aeronautics in making decisions in matters of aviation planning, education and budget throughout the state. (Status: Passed by the House and moves onto the Senate for consideration.)
- House Bill 66 -- This bill eliminates the statute of limitations for serious sex crimes. Lead sponsor, State Rep. Pam Maier, maintains the bill is intended to ensure that sexual offenses that occur in the future may be prosecuted regardless of when the crime was discovered or reported. The bill was amended to stipulate that sex crimes prosecuted under this act couldn't be based solely on a victim's repressed memory. Prosecution would require independent evidence that the crime occurred. (Status: Passed the House and moves onto the Senate for consideration.)
- House Bill 97 -- This bill exempts the Department of Education and Delaware's public school districts from paying prevailing wage rates on all projects. (Status: The bill has been released from committee and can now be taken up by the full House.)
- House Bill 106 -- Sponsored by State Rep. Tim Boulden, this bill would require that any teenage driver (under the age of 18) who is ticketed for driving without using a seat belt would have their license revoked. In lieu of their license, the teen would be issued a Level I learneršs permit for six months. (Status: The bill has been released from committee and can now be taken up by the full House.)
- House Bill 109 -- This bill makes several improvements to Delawarešs environmental enforcement statutes. Among other things, the bill would increase reporting and auditing requirements for chronic polluters; force top administrators to take responsibility for the environmental compliance of the facilities they manage; and triple the fines that could be levied against chronic polluters for new violations. State House Majority Leader Wayne Smith is sponsoring the bill. (Status: The bill has been released from committee and can now be taken up by the full House.)
- House Bill 128 -- State House Majority Leader Wayne Smith has introduced a bill that seeks to make some changes to Delaware's state seal. At present, the dates on the Great Seal of the State of Delaware are 1793, 1847, and 1907. "The current dates signify the dates of major revisions to the state seal -- hardly the stuff of important or inspiring history," Rep. Smith said. "By substituting significant dates in Delaware history, we can inform, educate and inspire -- a worthy goal for our state symbols." Under HB 128, the three existing dates would be changed to 1704, 1776 and 1787: the year an independent Delaware General Assembly first met; the year the colonies declared independence from Great Britain; and the year Delaware became "the First State" to ratify the United States Constitution, respectively. (Status: Pending in the House Administration Committee.)
- House Resolution 21 -- The House has passed a resolution urging Delaware's congressional delegation to take action to prohibit any French, German or Russian company, government entity, or consortium including interests from any of these countries, from bidding for reconstruction work in Iraq. Prime sponsors of the measure, State Reps. Bill Oberle and Wayne Smith, said the bill expresses their view that the nations who wanted to keep Saddam Hussein's criminal regime in power should be prevented from profiting from its demise.
* Partial list, only includes action on selected bills.
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