Delaware General Assembly Pre-Game Show: Tues., January 14, 2014

Filed in Delaware by on January 14, 2014

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.

BTW, here is a list of posted House and Senate Committee meetings.

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.

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  1. FenceSitter says:

    Love the commentary. Wish you could do live-game coverage at Leg Hall.

  2. Andy says:

    You talk about being thrown under the Dart Bus. Dart (actually the Governor and Secretary Bhatt) at the urging of some influencial former Deldot officials have decided to cut bus passengers a break and raise fares and cut para transit service over 3 years instead of 2. The promise of expanding fixed route service is still an on going promise. Its been talked about for many years with no substance.
    The Governor talks about creating jobs through road improvements. Yet he does not have enough money for the NEW Rt 301.
    Until those in charge realize that the Transportation Trust Fund needs a new source of revenue our transportation infastructure both roads and public transit will continue to decay

  3. FenceSitter: Thanks for the props. DelDem does a great job of that when something of major importance is considered.

    I’ve had more than my fill of that place. Last time I went back, it was to finalize my pension paperwork…

  4. Recovering Idealist says:

    Strong quote about the death penalty from soon to be Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr. at Widener yesterday:

    “I believe that our society is wrong to descend to the murderer’s level by taking his life when he’s been captured and caged. Now more and more citizens are coming around to this view.”

  5. pucker up says:

    I disagree with your claim about the NRA, the Reps and Sens that did support the bill the last time said they did so because the NRA is in favor of such legislation. The NRA agrees with this type of legislation if written properly.

    January 24, 2013 NRA-ILA Mental Health and Firearms synopsis

  6. AGovernor says:

    I am sorry am I missing something? did I forget how to read?

    I just looked at the legislation (H.B. 50) that El Somnambulo referenced above. The document showed changing the rate for income over $60,000 from 5.95% to 6.6%.

    Was a higher rate proposed and Longhurst wrote the legislation for a lower rate? I am fairly new to following the legislature did I miss something?

  7. Guv: Back in 2009, Markell’s first year, the budget faced a huge shortfall. The General Assembly enacted a series of ‘revenue enhancers’ to balance the budget. One income tax increase was part of the mix: the increase to 6.75% for the top rate. The Rethugs insisted that each of these have a ‘sunset provision’ added that would eliminate the increases in 2013, presumably anticipating better economic circumstances.

    In 2013, every single one of the revenue enhancers that had been enacted in 2009 were made permanent…except for one. HB 50 reduced what would have been the permanent top rate from 6.75% to 6.6%. It’s possible that 5.95% was the rate PRIOR to 2009. But the only one of the so-called revenue enhancers that was reduced from those increases was the top rate.

    Here we are again facing a revenue shortfall, and, once again, no D in a position of real power is even mentioning an increase in the top rate.

    This bothers me b/c, over a period beginning from Pete duPont’s terms in office through Carper, the top rate was significantly reduced, and there was an ongoing consolidation of income brackets…to the point where someone making over $60K now pays the same rate (6.6%) as someone making tens of millions a year. This consolidation took place when our state was flush in cash. Now our state isn’t, but the alleged leaders of our state, all of them Democrats, refuse to even CONSIDER restoring some progressivity to our state income tax.

  8. FenceSitter says:

    El Som, I think that would be a great Op-Ed piece, assuming TNJ would run it.

  9. mediawatch says:

    When du Pont took office in 1977, the top rate was 19.8 percent on incomes over $100,000.
    His 1979 tax cut knocked the top rate down to 13.5 percent.
    Why don’t the Dems in the GA say we’re going to go back to the glory days of the Pete du Pont administration and bump the tax rate up 13.5?

  10. While that might be too jarring, the very notion that D legislators are already talking about across-the-board cuts and not even SUGGESTING that Delaware’s most fortunate should share in the solution illustrates how far elected Democratic officials are from the needs of those who help make up the Democratic majority.

    The real top rate should definitely be well north of 6.6%. And those making millions a year should pay a higher rate than those earning $60K a year. 10% doesn’t seem unreasonable, especially when considered in concert with numerous tax breaks that many of their businesses enjoy.

  11. AQC says:

    Betcha by 2018 the democrats end up back in the basement of leg hall. Maybe even 2016.

  12. Disagree, AQC. What incentive is there for the Rethugs to even make a push when the D’s are doing pretty much everything that the moneyed classes want?

    If people like Carny (his new official name), Carper and Markell threatened their lifestyle, THEN they’d ante up to fund R challengers. But they’re economic Rockefeller R’s, and vote like them.

  13. Nuttingham says:

    Well, what electoral support are you suggesting will exist to the current majority party members to offset what you just suggested would be the re-emergence of well-financed opponents?

  14. AGovernor says:

    Thanks for the explanation Elsomnombulo. I didn’t live in DE prior to 2009 and in the first year or so wasn’t watching the legislature.

    An interesting note in regards to taxes. At Representative Potter’s Town Hall last night Senator Margaret Rose Henry pushed for a 1% increase in the City of Wilmington wage tax.

  15. mediawatch says:

    El Som, in your opinion, is there any D within the upper echelon of candidates (and I’m thinking here mostly of Beau and Denn) who could conceivably run for governor (or the Senate or House) and actually stand up for liberal/progressive causes.
    Right now, the D-Del label is meaningless. They’re all D-Banking, D-Pharma, D-Company State.
    Does Beau, Denn, or anyone else offer us any hope for change?

  16. Nuttingham, I didn’t suggest that current majority members would face the reemergence of well-financed opponents. Quite the opposite. The D’s are protecting the interests of the well-heeled perhaps more effectively than R legislators could themselves. It would take, as Howard Dean said, Democrats from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party to scare the Rethugs into reaching for their wallets.

    We do have more progressives than before in the General Assembly. But the power is still centralized in the hands of those who are D’s of convenience, not of conscience.

  17. I think Beau and Denn would both offer genuine hope for progressives. But I don’t know if Beau will ever run for office again, hope I’m wrong. And Denn seems to have cooled on a gubernatorial run. How does Carny vs Gordon for Governor sound to you? Thought so.

    There are some emerging progressives in the General Assembly who offer genuine promise. To a large degree, the legislature is now by far the most effective instrument of progressivism that we have. We need to push for more progressive legislators, and better progressive leaders. Especially in the House, IMHO.

  18. SussexWatcher says:

    What’s your rationale that Denn isn’t looking at the governorship any more? Do you think he and Carney have made another Swap deal – Carney runs for governor while Denn aims for Congress? (Meanwhile, Beau gets re-elected as AG and serves his full term until 2018, when Carper retires, and moves up to the Senate?)

    You are right about Gordon wanting the job, though. That is going to be a brutal race.

  19. My rationale is that Denn doesn’t appear to be doing what someone considering a run for Governor would be doing. I beg party insiders to prove me wrong. In fact, please, talk me down.

    Denn wouldn’t be involved in a ‘swap’ deal with Carny, IMHO.

    But, if Beau can’t run for reelection for AG…

  20. AQC says:

    I think the Dems will beat themselves with primaries.

  21. That only has a chance to work if the R’s have viable alternatives, not Queitches’, on the ballot.

  22. SussexWatcher says:

    Ok. AG Denn would be pretty bad-ass.

  23. Jason330 says:

    El Somnambulo sure is getting a lot of gut feelings these days. My eyes and ears tell me that Denn hasn’t cooled on gubernor.

  24. Maybe it’s that new probiotic I’m taking. After all, whatever Erin Andrews wants, I’m down with it…

  25. puck says:

    “My rationale is that Denn doesn’t appear to be doing what someone considering a run for Governor would be doing.”

    I think whatever his plans are, Denn is just trying not to make waves or stake out any position that would distance him from the governor too soon. Markell is a powerful and vindictive governor who does not brook even the appearance of a challenge. Denn sees what Markell is doing to Flowers and doesn’t want any of that treatment. Besides, Markell is relatively popular, so why would Denn want to differentiate himself?

  26. Nah, Markell isn’t Chris Christie. And he understands that his term ends in 2016. Denn would not be challenging Markell.

    BTW, I’m not talking about him drawing distinctions between himself and Markell. Too early for that. I’m talking about the kind of outreach that a prospective candidate would be normally doing.

    Hey, I hope I’m wrong. Anybody with REAL info to talk me down? After all, I’ve already picked out a spot on my lawn for a Denn sign.

  27. Jason330 says:

    “Markell is a powerful and vindictive governor who does not brook even the appearance of a challenge. Denn sees what Markell is doing to Flowers and doesn’t want any of that treatment.”

    Lol. Yeah…that’s it.