Sussex County Delaware

Delaware Legislative
Week in Review
Week in Review, May 9, 2003 ...

House Passes Bill
Mandating Seat Belts
House Passes Seat Belt Bill ...

Police officers could ticket drivers or passengers for riding without a seatbelt under a bill passed by the State House of Representatives.

Under current law motorists can already be cited for the offense, but only after they have been pulled over for another violation. House Bill 43 -- passed by the House on a vote of 31 yes, 9 no and one absent - would allow police to issue tickets solely for the seat belt offense.

The law proposed by HB 43 would apply to both drivers and passengers of motor vehicles. A violation would draw a maximum fine of $28.75. In the event that more than one person in a vehicle was found not to be using a seat belt, it would still be considered a single offense. No points would be assessed for a violation of the law.

In other jurisdictions that have adopted "primary offense" seat belt legislation, seat belt usage has increased. Prime sponsor of the bill, State Rep. Oberle (R-Beecher's Lot) says that increased usage has translated directly into fewer highway deaths and injuries as well as reduced medical costs for accident survivors.

One unusual provision of the bill would reward people who use their seat belts. Under HB 43, if motorists stopped for another violation are found to be properly buckled-up, they will be given a one-point credit on their driving record. "I'd rather use a carrot than a stick to get people to buckle-up," Rep. Oberle said.

Similar legislation passed the House in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. The Senate defeated the proposal in 2000 and let the other measures die without a vote. However, the Senate has new leadership this year and Rep. Oberle is hopeful that the bill has a better opportunity for being dealt with on its merits.

HB 43 now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Manufactured Home Relocation Fund Passes ...

The State House has passed legislation addressing the concerns of manufactured home owners and the landowners of the communities where they live.

House Bill 2 was passed by a vote of 38 "yes" and 1 "no".

Prime sponsor of the bill, State Representative Donna Stone (R-Dover South), said the bill is the result of months of work by a group of stakeholders representing every aspect of the manufactured home industry.

Reflecting the changes that have taken place in the manufactured home industry during the past 17 years, House Bill 2 (a.k.a. the Manufactured Home Owners and Community Owners Act) modifies, updates, reorganizes or replaces the Mobile Home Lots and Leases Act of 1986.

The key provision of the bill is the establishment of a trust fund into which community owners and home owners will each make monthly contributions of $1.50 per rented lot. The fund will financially assist home owners when they are forced to relocate due to a land use change. The fund will also pay for homes that cannot be relocated and for the removal and/or disposal of abandoned homes left in a community. The trust fund will initially have a $10 million cap.

Rep. Stone says the fund will provide some security for people living in manufactured home communities, many of whom face a difficult situation when they are forced to move. "Many of the homes are unable to be moved because they are too old to be relocated to another community," she said. "It's also very expensive to move these homes. It is very typical in these communities that you have people living on fixed incomes."

Other provisions of House Bill 2 include:

  • If the owners of land containing a manufactured home community intend to use their property for some other purpose, they must notify the home owners at least one year in advance and distribute a plan designed to assist home owners in their relocation.

  • Rent for lots may only be increased once every 12 months.

An extensive "truth-in-leasing" section that specifies more than 20 provisions that must be included in a rental agreement.

Rep. Stone anticipates the bill will be voted on in the Senate next week and believes the measure will win approval.

The governor indicated in her legislative agenda that she would support the bill.

House Bill 2 is considered to be the most detailed legislation of its kind in the nation, and will be offered to several national organizations as "model legislation" that other states could mimic.

Sunday Liquor Sales Bill Passes ...

Sunday liquor sales will soon be a reality in the First State. The House of Representatives has passed Senate Bill 41, which will allow stores selling beer, wine and liquor to open between the hours of noon and 8 p.m. The bill now heads to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill passed by a very close vote of 22 "yes" and 16 "no". A majority of 21 votes was needed to win approval in the 41-member House.

Supporters of the bill believe it will keep some retail sales in Delaware that had been flowing to neighboring states that already permit the sale of liquor on Sundays. Rep. Joe Miro, the prime sponsor of the bill in the House, says the measure will likely not generate much revenue for the state, but he says that was never the intent. Rep. Miro says the legislation will provide more convenience for Delaware consumers by giving package store owners the option of opening on Sundays.

However, Rep. Miro stresses that the bill does not mandate Sunday sales. "The owner of a liquor store could continue to maintain a policy of staying closed [on Sundays], or they could chose to open on Sunday and close a day during the course of the week."

The bill contains a "sunset provision," which will repeal the law after two years unless the General Assembly takes action.

Tourism Thriving in Delaware ...

Tourism in the First State has an annual economic impact of nearly $1 billion. That was one of the findings of a new report examining the economic contribution of travel and tourism in Delaware. The report was commissioned by the Tourism Alliance, a nonprofit organization comprised of Delaware¹s hotel, restaurant and entertainment venues.

Using data from 2002, the Delaware tourism industry was examined on three levels: total sales (representing all expenditures), total economic contributions (which factors out those goods and services coming from outside the state, and core industry (which considers only the direct impact of those sectors touching the visitor).

According to the report, some key findings of the analysis are:

  • Tourism has been an engine of growth in the Delaware economy, expanding 25% from 1997 to 2002;

  • Tourism Sales -- total expenditures -- tallied $1.6 billion in 2002;

  • Tourism's Economic Contribution reached $968 million last year. Direct and indirect effects on all tourism expenditures are included;

  • Tourism's Core Industry -- only the direct impact of end-providers of goods and services to travelers‹generated $696 million in local value added in 2002;

  • Tourism-generated jobs provided $690 million in labor income in 2002;

  • Tourism is a significant source of state government revenues and was responsible for $110 million or 4.7% of state tax revenues in 2002.

The $73,000 report was funded by a group of tourism organizations, private businesses and state agencies.

According to State Rep. Deborah Hudson (R-Fairthorne), "It is evident from the report that Delaware¹s tourism industry is a viable and thriving part of Delaware's economy. As Chairman of the House Tourism Committee, as well as Chair of the House Revenue and Finance Committee, I am always concerned about Delaware's economic future. The data provided by Global Insight proves that Delaware, as a tourist attraction, is a major regional competitor and should be marketed as such."

Tourism Committee Vice-Chair, State Rep. Tina Fallon, said: "It is no surprise to me that Delaware¹s tourism industry generates the kind of income the report details. The report provides more confirmation that every part of this state is an invaluable piece of Delaware's tourism landscape."

Study: Passenger Rail Service Feasible ...

Establishing commuter rail service to Newark and Wilmington for residents living south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal is economically feasible, according to a new draft study.

The study was conducted by the consulting firm of DMJM/Harris, which is working with a legislative task force investigating the commuter rail issue.

The consultant examined several different alternatives and concluded that initial efforts should focus on establishing a commuter rail line between Middletown and Newark. The least expensive of the options considered, the plan would use track that is already in place to run new engines and passenger rail cars between the two points.

Under the plan, passengers bound for Wilmington would transfer at Newark and use the SEPTA R-2 line to continue their commute. David Boaté, with DMJM/Harris, said the plan maximizes the use of many existing resources including unused ridership capacity on the R-2 line.

The estimated cost of improving the existing rail system and buying new rolling stock would run between $128 million and $148 million. Annual operational and maintenance costs would be approximately $3 million.

Ridership is estimated to be 638 daily commuters if the service begins operation on schedule in 2010.

Based on estimated per-passenger cost and projected ridership, the study maintains the Middletown/Newark/Wilmington service would be eligible for federal funding assistance.

The study is the latest of ongoing work being conducted by the Commuter Rail Passenger Task Force, which was formed by State Rep. Nancy Wagner in June 2001 to examine the possibility of starting passenger service between Dover and Wilmington. The task force is led by Rep. Wagner.

"I'm encouraged that the report indicates that new commuter rail service below the canal is feasible," Rep. Wagner said. "This project is still in its earliest stages and I remain committed to seeing rail service connecting our state's capital to its two largest cities."

The next step in the process will be a detailed analysis of selected alternatives as well as the possible environmental impacts of each option.

Bills Acted on in House ...
  • House Bill 135 -- Sponsored by State Rep. Nancy Wagner (R-Dover), this bill seeks to update Delaware¹s drug trafficking statute. Among other things, the bill would help state law keep pace with recent trends, including the use of "Ecstasy." According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, "Ecstasy" (MDMA) is a synthetic, psychoactive drug with both stimulant and hallucinogenic properties. Popular at dance clubs and raves, the NIDA reports Ecstasy use is increasing and spreading to other social groups. (Status: Released from committee. Ready to be debated by the full House.)

  • House Bill 137 -- This bill would triple the damages for criminals who victimize senior citizens and violate the Consumer Fraud Act. (Status: Released from committee. Ready to be debated by the full House.)

  • House Bill 142 -- This bill seeks to ban the use of so-called "Jake Brakes" or other similar devices. These types of brakes - usually used as secondary systems on trucks and some large RV's to reduce wear to the main brakes - compress air in the engine's cylinders to slow the vehicle down. According to lead sponsor, State Rep. Dick Cathcart (R-Middletown), the release of the air causes "a loud staccato sound" that produces "an incredible amount of noise." Rep. Cathcart's district contains the Delaware 1 toll plaza at Biddles Corner. (Status: Released from committee. Ready to be debated by the full House.)

  • House Bill 153 -- This legislation would legalize the sale of cigarettes on the Internet. The bill calls for those selling the cigarettes to take specific precautions to ensure minors do not purchase the tobacco. (Status: Released from committee. Ready to be debated by the full House.)

  • Senate Bill 35 -- Currently, Delaware law bars motorists from driving cars that have tinted windows that don't meet federal safety standards. However, nothing in the current code prevents the installation of non-compliant tinted windows. This bill would make it illegal to install tinted windows that don't meet the same federal standards. (Status: Passed by the Senate. Ready to be debated by the full House.)

    * Partial list, only includes action on selected bills.

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