Week in Review
by Three-Vote Margin
A bill seeking to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in housing, employment, public works contracting and public accommodations cleared the House of Representatives on Thursday evening by the slimmest of margins. House Bill 99 passed by a vote of 21 "yes", 18 "no", 1 absent, and 1 not voting.
Four amendments were tacked onto the legislation before its passage. Lead sponsor, State Rep. Bill Oberle (R-Beecher's Lot), said he believes the amendments do not impact the effectiveness of the bill. He said the additions only restate what's already in the Delaware Code and clarify the intent of the legislation. Rep. Oberle added that he believes the amendments may give some supporters of the anti-discrimination measure a better "comfort level".
One amendment to the bill makes it clear that the employment-at-will doctrine will not be impacted by the legislation.
"Employers will still be able to hire and fire as they see fit," Rep. Oberle said. "Employees will still be able to come and go as they see fit. No one will have a cause of action unless there is overt discrimination based on their sexual orientation, (just) as they would if they were discriminated against based on race, color, creed or gender."
Other amendments added to the bill (HA 2, 9, 12 & 13) specify that:
Sussex House members voting for the bill were: George Robert Quillen (R-30, Harrington) and Peter C. Schwartzkopf (D-14, Rehoboth Beach).
Sussex House members voting against the bill were Rep. John Atkins (R-41, Millsboro), Rep. Joe Booth (R-37, Georgetown), V. George Carey (R-36, Milford), Rep. G. Wallace Caulk (R-33, Frederica), Rep. Benjamin Ewing (R-35, Bridgeville), Rep. Tina Fallon (R-39, Seaford), Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38, Ocean View), Rep. Clifford G. Lee (R-40, Laurel)
A bill similar to HB 99 also passed the House by a single vote in 2001, but that bill later died in the Senate Small Business Committee. Rep. Oberle says he believes the bill's chances are better this time around, although he says a lot will hinge on what Senate committee the bill is placed in.
Gov. Minner has been an outspoken supporter of the bill.Primary Seat Belt Bill to Governor ...
The House of Representatives has sent a bill to Gov. Minner to make the non-use of seat belts a primary offense. The governor is expected to sign the measure.
House Bill 43 with Senate Amendment 1 passed by a vote of 27 "yes", six "no" and eight absent.
Currently, Delaware police can ticket motorists for not using their seat belts only after they have stopped their vehicles for another violation. HB 43 will change the law to make it a "primary offense," allowing police to pull over motorists for that infraction alone.
The legislation mandates seat belt use by the driver and passengers. Violations will constitute a civil offense that carries a $25 fine. No points will be assessed against drivers breaking the law.
Lead sponsor, State Rep. Bill Oberle, and other supporters of the measure say primary seat belt laws have been shown to increase seat belt use in other jurisdictions that have adopted them. That increase, they maintain, will translate into fewer deaths and injuries caused by vehicle accidents on Delaware's roads.$2.44 Billion State Budget Signed ...
The General Assembly maintained what has become something of a tradition in recent years by sending the governor the state budget several days prior to the June 30 deadline. Gov. Minner signed the spending plan into law on Thursday, June 26, at Legislative Hall, shortly after the 227-page bill cleared both chambers.
The bill (House Bill 300) expends over $2.44 billion in General Fund money to state operations in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2004, which begins on July 1st. The new budget represents a spending increase of $52.5 million or 2.2 percent over last year's operating budget. State Rep. Joe DiPinto, the co-chair of the legislative committee that fashioned the budget, says one of the main drivers for the modest increase was the escalating cost of the state's share of Medicaid.
Of the $2.44 billion, $816.6 million is dedicated to paying for the day-to-day expenses of running Delaware's public schools -- about a third of all state spending (33.4 percent) -- and Rep. DiPinto says those costs have been increasing in recent years. "The population has continued to increase," he said. "We thought the number of kids going to our secondary schools would level off several years ago and that has not happened. It's continued to grow every year."
Additionally, nearly 27 percent of the state budget ($653.5 million) is earmarked for the Department of Health and Social Services. That represents an increase of almost $21 million over the current fiscal year.
Senate Bill 170 -- the state Bond Bill -- was also signed into law by the governor. The bill contains $576.6 million in funding for road, school and construction projects throughout the state.House OKs New Presidential Primary Date ...
The House has sent a bill to Gov. Minner to change the date on which Delawareans will select presidential contenders. Senate Bill 54, passed by the House on Wednesday night, changes Delaware's Presidential Primary to the first Tuesday in February of a presidential election year.
Delaware legislators had earlier scheduled the presidential primary to be held on the Saturday following New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary. However, New Hampshire officials balked at having Delaware's primary within a week of their own and threatened to work against any presidential candidate that campaigned in the First State. The resulting pressure kept most presidential candidates out of Delaware.
The move to change the date of the Delaware Presidential Primary is supported by both the Republican and Democrat parties. Even with the change, State House Majority Leader Wayne Smith (R-Brandywine Hundred North) says Delaware will still have one of the earliest presidential primaries in the nation.
"We should get the full slate of candidates coming off New Hampshire and speeding to Delaware. Š It should elevate our ability to influence who becomes the next president of the United States, so it's pretty exciting stuff."
Rep. Smith says Delaware could become an important early indicator for presidential hopefuls and something of a national bellwether. "The attractive thing about Delaware is that its demography (and) its urban/rural mix more closely matches the nation as a whole than either Iowa or New Hampshire. So in terms of a Š microcosm of the national electorate, Delaware fits the bill pretty well."Bill Would Allow Sunday Sales in Bars ...
A bill that would allow taverns and taprooms to serve alcoholic beverages on holidays and Sundays cleared the House on Tuesday.
House Bill 255, sponsored by State Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, passed by a vote of 30 "yes", 10 "no" and 1 not voting. The bill applies only to establishments with an "on-premise" liquor license.
Proponents argued the measure would help bars and taverns, who saw patronage drop after last November's enactment of the Clean Indoor Air Act, to recoup some lost revenue. Some also saw it as a logical extension of the recent change allowing package stores to operate on Sundays.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.Bills Acted on in House ...
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