The 2nd Session of the 147th General Assembly begins today. For newbies, or for those who forget easily, here’s what you need to know. Each legislative term lasts two years, from election to election. The 147th General Assembly runs until Election Day. Since this is the second year of the Assembly, all legislation that was in play on July 1, 2013 remains in play today. Of course, that doesn’t even consider new bills, new nominees, new controversy and, of course, new snark from Yours Truly.
The General Assembly meets for three weeks in January, breaks for six weeks for Joint Finance Committee hearings until mid-March, meets until Easter, breaks for two weeks, meets until around Memorial Day, breaks for two weeks (this is usually when the fiscal bills are finalized), and then meets until the early hours of July 1. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
This can and should be a busy and productive January session. It WILL be a contentious session. Here’s just some of the stuff that likely will be considered during January:
1. Minimum Wage Increase: This, of course, should have been passed last year. SB 6 w/SA2 passed the Senate on March 21 with the Governor on the record as saying he would sign it. The bill was then slow-walked in the House with the acquiescence of the self-same governor. Assignment of the bill to committee was delayed, consideration of the bill in committee was delayed until the last legal day (if not beyond), and the bill was placed in a less hospitable committee than necessary. Oh, and three Democratic representatives opposed the bill in committee. Two of those representatives, Andria Bennett and Bryon Short, have now said that they’ll vote to release the bill from committee. Chairman Short has said that he would consider adding back a provision that provides for automatic increases tied to cost-of-living increases. Markell had gotten that provision dropped in the Senate by promising that he could support the bill without that provision. He then went back on his word and sought to have the bill killed or delayed in the House. SB 6 has been scheduled for House committee consideration for Wed., January 22. If Reps. Bennett, B. Short, Q. Johnson, or occasional progressive Mike Ramone are your reps, call them, and politely urge them to support SB 6 with a restored COLA adjustment. Dare Markell not to sign it. If the COLA adjustment is not restored, just remember who screwed you. FWIW, I think the bill passes in January. In what form remains to be seen.
2. Some predictions are no-brainers. Especially when they involve the incompetent Valerie Longhurst, who defines the term ‘no brainer’. You may recall legislation that would have given public employees a voice, for the first time, on the State Employees Benefit Committee, which is dominated by aparatchiks of the Governor. Public employees sought two members, the Governor wanted no members. SB 21(Henry) passed the Senate on April 30, 2013, and was assigned to the House House Administration Committee. That committee is comprised of the House leadership, Longhurst is the chair. SB 21 would expand the membership of the 7-person committee to 9, and add two employees. The bill has 35 sponsors, including 4 R’s. The so-called Leadership Team of Schwartzkopf and Longhurst is notable by the absence of both from the sponsorship list. You see, they were carrying the governor’s water on this, not the state employees who live in their respective districts. Markell has consistently opposed even the notion that state employees deserve to be heard on the issue of their benefits. The Leadership Team kept SB 21 buried in committee. Longhurst said that they would spend the time between June and January looking for a compromise. OK, kids, I’ve got a math question for you: If one side proposes two, and the other side proposes zero, what kind of a compromise would you expect to happen? If you said ‘one’, congratulations, that is the compromise that allegedly took six months to reach. The bill will pass this January, following a committee hearing this Wednesday.
BTW, time for an angry screed, the first of the year. Valerie Longhurst was interviewed by WDEL’s Amy Cherry today. Among other things, Longhurst chuckled and said that the minimum wage vote is ‘one of the easiest’ they’ll have all year. Really? Why then, did the Leadership Team of Schwartzkopf/Longhurst try to kill the bill in 2013? Remember, now, Schwartzkopf insisted that he and Longhurst had to be elected together or the Caucus would get neither. As a team, they’ve consistently placed Markell’s priorities ahead of the people of the state and often ahead of the positions of most caucus members, as in the minimum wage delay. Longhurst also said that the death penalty bill would not come up because it was important to ‘respect’ the committee vote to table it. Hello-o-o-o? Isn’t that exactly what happened to the minimum wage bill? Why is one vote worthy of respect, and another vote worthy of ‘never mind’? BTW, Longhurst expressed anguish about a $130 million projected budget deficit. She specifically said that cuts would have to be made across the board. She said nothing about raising taxes on, say, those most able to afford to pay more. Why? Well, perhaps the fact that she was the prime sponsor of legislation that gave Delaware’s wealthiest citizens a tax cut explains it. Yep, a cut from 6.75% to 6.6% for Delaware’s wealthiest, courtesy of this governor and Val Longhurst. She also lamented the fact that this deficit might make it tougher to provide a wage increase for state employees. This interview is well worth checking out. I’ll see if maybe we can use the sound bytes on today’s Al Show (10-12, WDEL 1150 AM). Longhurst’s district is not an upper-crust district, far from it. She values her leadership position so much that she has no compunction about throwing her constituents under the proverbial DART bus. I, for one, believe that she should and conceivably could be defeated this year. I’m willing to help.
But, I digress. Longhurst has decreed that the death penalty bill not be revisited this year, so, for now, and for once, we shall take her at her word. Until she goes back on it.
3. Checks to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally-ill.
HB 88(Barbieri) passed the House by a 40-1 vote on May 14. The bill would enact protections designed to keep people who are deemed a danger due to mental illness from having guns. The Forces of Darkness, aka the NRA and its, wait for it, ilk, succeeded in raising enough tort-uous questions that the bill failed in the Senate. Grassroots organizations are seeking to get the bill reinstated to the Senate Agenda on Tuesday. That part should be easy. All that’s required is for one senator from the prevailing (no) side of the vote to move that the bill be restored. Since at least one supporter almost always switches their vote from yes to no precisely so that a bill can be restored, the bill will be restored. At that point, it’s laid on the table of the President Pro-Tempore, and can be called up for a vote at any time. Here is the Senate roll call. If your Senator voted no (mine did), contact them and politely urge them to support the bill. I’ve heard quite a bit of optimism that this bill has a legitimate chance to pass in January, but it’s not a slam-dunk. You can help make it so.
4. Leo Strine, Jr. for Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court.
The nomination will be confirmed. Strine is certainly well-qualified and has a brilliant legal mind. The only real question is whether there will be a petty ‘no’ vote from anybody in the Senate. I’m betting no.
5. General Assembly Revisits the Sheriff of Nuttingham in the form of Chip Flowers.
Yep, a bill written in, one supposes, even plainer English than the plain English already in the Delaware Code. to make clear that the State Treasurer can’t act like a rogue day-trader in making investments on behalf of the state. That’s what SB 151(Blevins) does, it will be considered in the Senate Executive Committee on Wednesday and, I suspect, will be the law of the State of Delaware by the end of January. I will be more than a little intrigued to see who, if anybody votes against this bill. Since the bill merely clarifies what is already law, I think that only a Chipmunk would oppose it.
FI-nally, there’s a House Agenda for today. I find two bills to be especially worthwhile. HB 181(Barbieri) , “adds support proceedings to the Family Court proceedings in which mediation is prohibited. This applies to cases in which one of the parties has been found by a court to have committed an act of domestic violence against the other party or if either party has been ordered to stay away or have no contact with the other party, unless a victim of domestic violence who is represented by counsel requests such mediation”. Just one more small example of why I consider Barbieri to be one of our finest legislators. The other bill is SB 55(Townsend), which “…adds members of the Public Service Commission to the definition of ‘public officer’ which would subject them, like many other individuals in positions of public trust, to certain financial disclosure requirements.” I’m frankly puzzled as to why this bill didn’t pass the House last year. It passed the Senate unanimously on May 16, then was assigned to the House House…waitaminnit! That’s where Markell often buries bills he doesn’t like, courtesy of Pete and Valerie. And, despite bipartisan co-sponsorship from 33 legislators, the House Leadership Team of Schwartzkopf and Longhurst are not among the sponsors. Just something to think about.
Which is what I intend to provide you during the session.