Sussex County Delaware

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

Rally Staged for
House Bill 99
Rally Staged for H.B. 99 ...

Supporters of a bill that seeks to prohibit discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of sexual orientation rallied at Legislative Hall recently (May 15) to encourage lawmakers to pass the bill.

House Bill 99 was introduced in the House earlier this year, but has not yet been released from committee. An identical measure, also designated as House Bill 99, passed the House by a single vote during the last General Assembly session. That bill died in a Senate committee.

Sponsored by State Rep. Bill Oberle (R-Beecher's Lot), the bill has the backing of Gov. Ruth Ann Minner. Both elected officials spoke at the rally.

The bill is also supported by at least 18 organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the League of Women Voters, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Additionally, more than 60 Jewish, Protestant and Catholic clergy have signed a letter touting the legislation.

Rep. Oberle says he expects the bill to be released from committee and available for a vote by the full House prior to the end of the 2003 legislative session on June 30.

Chronic Polluter's Bill off to Governor ...

Legislation aimed at cracking down on chronic polluters is heading to the governor's desk to be signed into law.

House Bill 109 would make several significant changes to Delaware¹s environmental enforcement statutes in an effort to rein-in industrial facilities that repeatedly violate current anti-pollution laws.

Increased auditing of chronic polluters is among the bill's provisions. "[The bill would allow] the state to require third party independent auditors to go onto a site, Š do an assessment, and require either new investments or procedure changes to ensure the plant will be a safe neighbor and a good environmental steward," State Rep. Wayne Smith said.

Rep. Smith (R-Brandywine Hundred North) and State Rep. Bob Valihura (R-Delaware North) are the prime sponsors of the measure.

Other requirements contained in the bill would 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.

The impetus for the bill came in the aftermath of a series of chemical releases and accidents in 2002 that occurred at General Chemical and the Sunoco Oil Refinery. All or parts of both facilities are located in northeast Delaware, in the area represented by Reps. Smith and Valihura. The bill, however, would apply to chronic polluters statewide.

Both lawmakers note HB 109 is a bipartisan bill that has the backing of Gov. Minner. Democratic Senator Dave McBride is sponsoring the bill in his chamber.

Manufactured Home Relocation Bill to Governor ...

Legislation to create a Relocation Trust Fund to help the owners of manufactured homes that are forced to move by their landlords is heading to the governor's desk.

House Bill 2 capped its passage through the General Assembly with a unanimous vote in the Senate. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Governor Minner. Prime sponsor of the bill, State Representative Donna Stone (R-Dover South), said the measure is the result of months of work by a group of stake holders representing every aspect of the manufactured home industry.

House Bill 2 modifies, updates, reorganizes or replaces the Mobile Home Lots and Leases Act of 1986.

The key provision of the bill would establish a $10 million trust fund to financially assist home owners when they are forced to relocate due to the closure of their community. The fund would also pay for homes that cannot be relocated and for the removal and/or disposal of abandoned homes left in a community. The fund would be financed by community owners and home owners, who would each make monthly contributions of $1.50 per rented lot.

Rep. Stone says critics who claim the fund will lead community owners to sell their land are wrong. She notes that current law allows home owners to be evicted with six months notice and no compensation.

Among the other items included in House Bill 2 are the following provisions:

  • If a manufactured home community is being converted to another use, home owners must be notified at least one year in advance. (a doubling of the current six-month requirement)

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

  • The bill lists over 20 provisions that must be included in a rental agreement.

  • A community owner must provide home owners with a written accounting of all fees and other charges, including those for the use of optional facilities or services.

  • The bill prohibits entrance and exit fees, and provides for meetings between community owners and home owner representatives to discuss any discontinued utilities, facilities, or services.

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" for other states to copy.

Judiciary Asks for More Money ...

E. Norman Veasey, the chief justice of Delaware, is asking the General Assembly for $3.3 million above what Gov. Minner has recommended for the judicial branch in the upcoming fiscal year.

Addressing senators and representatives who gathered in the State House chamber at Legislative Hall (May 13), Chief Justice Veasey said the courts need the additional funds to pay for new technology and legal services for the needy.

Of the $3.3 million, $2.57 million would be used for the first phase of a computer project that Chief Justice Veasey said "will tie the police, courts and corrections together into one efficient technological continuum."

The remaining $727,300 would used to pay for legal aid for the indigent, which the state is constitutionally mandated to provide.

The General Assembly will be in recess during the end of May as lawmakers fine tune the state's operating and capital budgets for the new fiscal year that begins July 1st.

Sunday Liquor Sales a Reality ...

Delaware package stores now have the option of opening on Sundays following the signing of Senate Bill 41 by Governor Ruth Ann Minner.

Sponsored by State Sen. Dave Sokola (D-Newark) and State Rep. Roger Roy (R-Limestone Hills), the legislation allows for liquor stores to operate between the hours of noon and 8 p.m. on Sundays.

Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania already permit Sunday liquor sales. Supporters of SB 41 say the new law will provide convenience for Delawareans. The law will terminate in two years unless it is re-approved by the General Assembly.

Reps Headed to Meetings ...

Eleven members of the Delaware House of Representatives are meeting with their counterparts from around the nation to discuss how states can deal with the challenges they collectively face.

The four-day meeting is sponsored by the Council of State Governments (CSG) as a forum where national committees and task forces will meet to develop and plan their priorities for the next two years. All 11 Delaware House members hold positions on these CSG policy groups.

The trip will cost taxpayers $17,000. A spokesman for the House has refused to identify the represenatives taking the trip, citing security concerns.

Several sessions will focus on the various fiscal challenges faced by virtually every state this year. Although Delaware is in better shape than most, lawmakers must enact changes over the next two months to address a projected operational budget shortfall of between $200 million and $300 million for Fiscal 2004.

"We've already exhausted the easiest avenues for closing our budget gap," said Speaker of the House Terry Spence (R-Stratford). "Hopefully this conference will give our delegation some insights on how we can generate more state revenue without raising the taxes paid by most Delawareans."

Another CSG session will explore what policy options are available to address the problem of escalating medical malpractice insurance premiums that are forcing some doctors to relocate and others to abandon the practice of medicine.

The Environmental Task Force and Agriculture & Rural Development Task Force are holding a joint session to look at what policy tools are available to support and promote sources of renewable energy. Two of the most widespread forms of renewable fuels, ethanol and bio-diesel, are made from corn and soybean - the crops most commonly grown in Delaware.

"Some of our people will be reviewing legislation from throughout the country to see if these bills can be offered to other states facing similar challenges," Rep. Spence said. "It's a grueling task, but it pays off. Instead of every state having to 're-invent the wheel,' they can look at laws that have been successfully applied elsewhere - saving the time, money and headaches associated with crafting and fine-tuning legislation."

Bills Acted on in House ...
  • House Bill 156 -- This comprehensive legislation is intended to help police recover stolen property from pawnshops, secondhand dealers and scrap metal processors (junk dealers) who are unaware of the goods' illicit nature. HB 156 would require pawnbrokers, secondhand dealers and scrap metal processors to report via daily E-mail on the sale, pledge or pawn of certain kinds of goods that have a higher risk of being stolen. Police agencies would compare these descriptions against known stolen property. The act would also impose an 18-day waiting period on pawnbrokers and secondhand dealers to hold goods before selling or disposing of the goods. Scrap metal processors would be required to hold gold and silver for 18 days. The bipartisan measure is sponsored by State Reps. Gerald Buckworth (R-Buchanan Acres), Melanie George (D-Bear) and John Viola (D-Newark). The legislation would not apply to auctions, flea markets, car dealers, garage/yard sales or the sale of used books, furniture and clothes. (Status: The bill has been released from committee and is available for a vote by the full House.)

  • House Substitute 1 for House Bill 19 -- This bill would allow minors who are 16 and 17-years-old to work as election officers at Delaware's polling places. It would also extend the same privilege to adults who are not registered to vote in Delaware. Prime sponsor, State Rep. Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley), says the legislation would allow high school students and non-resident college students to take part in the democratic process while broadening the pool of potential election workers. (Status: Passed by the House. The bill moves to the Senate for consideration.)

  • Senate Bill 35 -- It will soon be illegal to install most types of tinted windows in the First State. Current law bars motorists from driving cars that have tinted windows that prevent an outside observer from seeing inside the vehicle. However, nothing in the current code prevents the installation of these illegal windows. This bill would prohibit that practice. (Status: Passed by the General Assembly. Heading to the governor for her signature.)

  • Senate Bill 58 -- This bill seeks to expand the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery. SB 58 enables Delaware businesses to voluntarily to submit disputes involving various kinds of commercial technology (e.g., computer, biological, and engineering technology) for resolution by the court. This bill also enables the Court of Chancery to allow parties to request mediation in order to resolve high-stakes, complex business disputes. In these mediation proceedings, the court would be asked to assist parties in reaching voluntary settlements of business dispute. The legislation seeks to keep Delaware ahead-of-the curve in meeting the evolving needs of businesses, thus making the state a more attractive place for businesses to incorporate and locate operations here. (Status: Passed by the General Assembly. Heading to the governor for her signature.)

  • House Bill 164 -- Sponsored by State Rep. Dick Cathcart (R-Middletown), the purpose of HB 164 is to protect existing shooting ranges and hunting operations from nuisance suits by people who have recently moved into the area and who have ³come to the nuisance². (Status: The bill has been released from committee and is available for a vote by the full House.)

  • House Bill 170 -- This bill seeks to reduce from 24 hours to 12 hours the amount of time the police must wait to put a notice on an abandoned vehicle. It would also reduce from 24 hours to 12 hours the amount of time a person has to remove the abandoned vehicle once the police have posted notice. (Status: The bill has been released from committee and is available for a vote by the full House.)

    * Partial list, only includes action on selected bills.

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