Week in Review
Sponsored by State Rep. Wally Caulk (R-Frederica), House Bill 225 is an attempt to address the root cause of a growing number of contentious disputes between county officials and farmers.
Under Article II, Section 25 of the Delaware Constitution, land, buildings and other structures being used for agriculture are exempt from regulation under county and municipal zoning authority.
"With farms that are being actively worked, the counties have no authority to regulate or enforce land use decisions or zoning ordinances on that property," Rep. Caulk said.
The interpretation over what constitutes "agricultural uses" has created conflicts between farmers and county officials. "With the economy slowing down, many farmers have diversified their operations over the last few years by building greenhouses, offering farm tours and opening roadside stands," Rep. Caulk said.
"The problem is that the counties are now looking at these new operations as commercial enterprises and trying to regulate them," Rep. Caulk said. "Farming is more than just raising corn and soybeans. These ventures are agri-businesses and, as such, are not subject to city and county land use ordinances."
A farmer himself, Rep. Caulk says HB 225 is an attempt to remove these points of conflict by clearly defining in the Delaware Code what constitutes "agricultural use."
The bill has been released from committee and is ready to be debated by the full House before the General Assembly 2003 session ends on June 30.Anti-Pollution Bill Passes House ...
The State House has passed legislation to help communities impacted by pollution. House Bill 192 would use a portion of the money polluters pay in fines to assist the communities hurt by their environmental violations.
Sponsored by State Rep. Greg Lavelle, HB 192 seeks to create the Community Environmental Project Fund. Administered by the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), 25 percent of the civil and administrative penalties DNREC collects from polluters would be earmarked for the fund.
Rep. Lavelle said the idea for the bill came from Claymont residents shortly after a pollution incident at the nearby Sunoco refinery last year. He said the community leaders told him they had several environmental projects they'd like to pursue and wondered why they couldn't get a share of the fine Sunoco had paid.
Fines paid into the fund as the result of a specific pollution incident would be designated for use in the communities impacted by that pollution. Rep. Lavelle says the money would also be designated for environmental improvement, mitigation or restoration projects.
Rep. Lavelle says one of the key aspects of the bill is that it would allow local residents to decide how fund money should be spent in their communities. "The bill would require the secretary of DNREC to work with the community (to) help identify some projects and, if possible, pursue them."
The bill now moves to the Senate, where it is expected to enjoy strong support.
"My hope is that a dime never goes into (the fund) because that will mean that there have been no environmental releases," Rep. Lavelle said. "Unfortunately, I don't think history has shown that to be a realistic expectation."Task Force, Committee Info on Web ...
Anyone with access to the Internet can now get information on the numerous task forces and committees formed by the General Assembly each year.
Every year the House and Senate -- sometimes acting alone, sometimes in unison - form task forces and committees to investigate complex subjects or examine issues that legislators were unable to resolve.
"Up until now, there was no central repository for data on these groups," said State Rep. Stephanie Ulbrich (R-Newark South). "Whenever you wanted to get some information on a working committee or task force, it involved tracking down someone on the group. I thought there was an opportunity to employ some technology that would make it easier to track the work of these groups."
As a result of Rep. Ulbrich's inquiries, Legislative Council -- a nonpartisan state agency that facilitates public access to the General Assembly - has developed a system to track task force work.
The tracking system can be accessed from the General Assembly web site at: http://www.legis.state.de.us/Legislature.nsf. Once there, users can click on the State House or Senate link and then a link on the left side of the screen entitled "committees and task forces."
There are currently over a dozen task forces listed on the site. People interested in the work of a task force or committee can now find out who chairs the group, what its membership is, when it's due to deliver its report, and minutes from meetings the group has held. A link also allows users to read a copy of the legislation that formed the group. As soon as legislation is passed forming a committee or taskforce, the site is updated.
"Most people don't realize the impact these task forces and committees have on their lives," Rep. Ulbrich said. "These groups are often charged with finding solutions to difficult problems and return to the General Assembly with recommendations that often produce new laws."
Legislative groups that have conducted work this year include the Medical Liability Insurance Task Force, the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Task Force, and the Small Business Health Insurance Task Force.
"Now the citizens of Delaware, and anyone else who has an interest in our public policy, have a place where they can readily find out what our legislative task forces and committees are doing," Rep. Ulbrich said.Bills Acted on in House ...
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