General Assembly Pre-Game Show: Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Filed in Delaware by on June 3, 2014

Admit it. Like me, you didn’t see this coming$3 mill in funding earmarked for the University of Delaware in limbo while the Delaware General Assembly awaits word on what the U of D will decide in terms of the plan to build a data center and energy plant on university land. I have no problem in general with the General Assembly withholding funds from the University when UD is recalcitrant. I just wish they had done it to force UD to open its records to the public. Maybe they’ll do that next year.

This is clearly a power play by labor and some business interests to get this project moving. We’re talking Jobs vs. NIMBY. I ain’t got a dawg in this fight, but it’ll make for a fascinating June. WWUDD?

I also can’t believe that the General Assembly will allow a $70 million swath to be cut through DELDOT’s construction budget, I just can’t. If we’re talking about jobs, how does reducing road projects from around $190 million to about $120 million protect them? It doesn’t. Now that Valerie Longhurst’s power is on the wane, perhaps wiser heads will prevail in the General Assembly. Especially if a certain bridge on I-495 is in danger of falling down. Again, some great drama for the final month. Uh, not the falling down part, I hope, but the question of whether legislators will lay down on the job and bid a lot of jobs and important work adieu.

Not to mention the General Assembly’s first move to legalize recreational marijuana use. While, as Matt Denn points out, this bill might not even be necessary, the revenue stream that comes with legalizing pot will ultimately prove too enticing to turn down. Only question is when. I mean, when a former cop (Mitchell) is one of the sponsors…

So many other storylines. To me, the most important is whether the majority will prevail in the House to put an end to Delaware’s death penalty.  Prime House Sponsor Darryl Scott is leaving the General Assembly after this session. He has nothing to lose in petitioning the bill out of committee, assuming (and it’s not a safe assumption) that all the bill’s supporters will sign the petition. If they do, or if Rebecca Walker listens to reason, the repeal could pass by the end of June.

Let’s look at what’s happening now.

Just take in today’s Senate Agenda. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I love this agenda, not necessarily so much for the specifics of the bills, but for what it tells us about what’s happening in the General Assembly. This agenda focuses on children’s issues, rights of victims, employment rights for pregnant women, even on the need to protect heroin abusers from themselves. Look at the sponsors. Most, but not all, are sponsored by women. Leaders in the Senate. There will be plenty of time for snark as we move through June, but I love what the Delaware State Senate has become. You don’t get an agenda like this without enlightened leadership, a strong progressive core and, yes, visionary female leaders in the Senate. I worked in the Senate for a long time. I just have to say that I think this is the best group of senators that I can recall, and they’re working together. Senators Townsend, Sokola, Marshall, McDowell, McBride and Bushweller have created a wonderful progressive synergy with their sisters-in-arms.  I’m generally not happy unless I’m unhappy, but I’ve got virtually no complaints regarding the work of the State Senate this session.

Synergy is not a word that immediately comes to mind when considering the House of Representatives. Hey, when the two leaders don’t see eye-to-eye, and when retribution is commonplace, it’s not surprising that some members ‘go into business for themselves’.  Stuff like the Delaware City sweetheart deal, hopefully permanently buried in committee. (Ooops, no such luck. Valerie Longhurst and her Delaware City cabal are bringing up the bill again in the committee chaired by–Val Longhurst. Wednesday.) Hope springs eternal, though. Let’s see…what’s on tap for today?

Well, well, the very first House Bill on the Agenda looks a little…hinky. The synopsis may seem innocuous enough: “This Bill will modernize the process and requirements for issuance of liquor licenses for off premises consumption. The current process and requirements do not consider population growth. Minimum distance requirements are enhanced while increases in population growth will now be considered to arrive at a safety and convenience balance.” But let’s cogitate upon this further, shall we? A bill that actually ‘modernizes’ something like this would generally come out of, say, a Sunset review of the ABCC or perhaps a task force. This bill has exactly three sponsors, and a more unlikely trio would be hard to find: Rep. Dennis Williams, Sen. Nicole Poore, and the Far-Right Reverend Rep. Tim Dukes. Now, something tells me that these three legislators didn’t just come up with this during a Facebook Friends session. Somebody, or some somebodies, want this bill. Don’t know who, don’t know why, but I do know that the public isn’t clamoring for this bill. It’s either some someones who can’t get a license under current law and want one, and/or some someones who want to make sure that nobody else can get what they already have. This has nothing to do with the public interest. Legislators: Prove me wrong.

I worry a little about HB 295(Bolden).  While I support the notion that confidential personal records should be kept confidential, I just wonder whether there might be a law of unintended consequences here in that it might also permit the destruction of documents that could implicate companies i legal proceedings. Plus, please tell me, why are “(b)anks, financial institutions, and certain other regulated institutions…exempt, as are governments and their subdivisions, agencies and instrumentalities.” More information, please.

The General Assembly considers two bills to address stated financial shortfalls in the provision of emergency ambulance service. HB 315(Carson) creates a “Volunteer Ambulance Company Fund”, and is on today’s House Agenda. SB 207(Ennis)  would “ensur(e)” that health insurers, health service corporations, health maintenance organizations, or managed care organizations do not set their allowable charges below the costs incurred by the volunteer ambulance companies in providing an ambulance run and basic life support services”, and is on today’s Senate Agenda. Now, correct me if I’m wrong. Aren’t ‘volunteer ambulance companies’ almost always part of ‘volunteer fire companies’, and aren’t most of them awash in money? Just askin’.

A real good FOIA bill is on today’s House Agenda. HB 323(Osienski) “requires that annual or biennial reports published by various public bodies of the Executive Branch of State Government be posted in a central online repository available to the citizens through the State’s web portal. By creating a single, central database for these reports by public bodies, this Act will significantly improve citizen access to public information that may be difficult to locate. Additionally, in lieu of the costly and time consuming task of publishing, printing, and mailing each report, this Act provides that a public body’s duty to publish and provide these reports to others in state government is met by providing electronic notification of the availability of these reports on a designated website.”

The final bill on today’s House Agenda is SB 209(Townsend), requiring at least some Charter school accountability. With the overwhelming number of D House sponsors, I don’t expect any slow-walking of this bill, but we should all keep an eye on this to make sure.

That’s it for today. All this and lots more on today’s Al Mascitti Show, WDEL-1150, 10 am to 12 noon. You can also listen here.

Coming tomorrow: Lots of committee meetings!

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  1. John Young says:

    Sadly, El Som, this was very predictable. Despite reflexive denials, the money withholding is a trademark Markell strategy. Seen it before twice up close. Once we folded, the second time we shoved it up the DOE’s backside.

    UD and their billion dollar endowment should tell the “JFC” to go to hell over 3 million.

    And unlike some key politicians, my momma don’t live just West of the plant so the wind can carry it all away…

  2. If it was just $3 mill, UD would probably do just that. But they get a bleepload of money every year from Dover, and doing something like that could well provide the impetus for UD to become what it claims it is: a private university in the truest sense: No $$’s from Dover unless, for example, they open up their records.

    They don’t want THAT fight, which is why this one is more difficult than it would appear.

  3. anon says:

    While, as Matt Denn points out, this bill might not even be necessary..

    The argument I hear from law enforcement types is that in Delaware, if you get caught with a small amount of pot you don’t go to jail, you go into a treatment program, so why do we need the bill?

    Well, when you get caught in Delaware with even small amounts of pot, you still have to go to court where you are put in an out patient type treatment program.

    That means someone caught with a small amount of pot (i.e. a joint), is arrested, has to get a lawyer, go to court, get put into the treatment program, go through group counseling, and pee in a cup every week until the treatment program deems you fit for release from the program.

    If you decriminalize small amounts of pot, you eliminate the arrest, the court time, and you free up space in treatment programs for heroin addicts, alcoholics, and other people who actually need a detox program.

  4. Jim C says:

    There is also SB213 proposed by a couple of R’s to set up Right To Work zones to get more jobs. It would give companies a break on their gross receipts taxes further lowering our revenue and allowing companies to pay crap wages. There’s an op ed in the WNJ by Lavelle and King making their case for the law.
    I fired off an LTE as soon as I finished the article:
    So two republican legislators are convinced that “Right To Work” laws will rescue the job market in Delaware. They tout Michigan as the most recent state to enact these laws. For the record, Michigan ranks 49th in projected job growth this year with an unemployment rate of 7.4% Last year they were ranked 50th. So much for the benefits of “Right To Work” legislation.

  5. Just a followup on what UD gets from the State. It currently gets about 12% of its annual operating budget from the state, not counting additional one-time stuff.

  6. Steve Newton says:

    @anon

    You also end with a criminal record of the type that could forever bar you from being something like a teacher, as well as lose certain other rights (owning firearms is the first example that comes to mind but I don’t believe it is the only one).

    And we have to ask: why should a recreational marijuana user who has not committed any other “crime” or crime have to go involuntarily into treatment?

    Matt Denn disappoints for the second time this month (the first time was with the ridiculous pimping for lowering corporate workers’ comp costs at the expense of health care providers). But that is apparently what it takes these days.

  7. Anon says:

    The UD is likely starting to talk about the marginal benefit and cost of that 12 percent. US college age population is in decline. If they admit fewer in state and use those slots for out of state and international students, they can make up a portion of the lost state funds and enjoy less Delaware Bull. Great economic strategy by Markell and the collective ignorance in Dover. Educating Delaware residents is key to our future economic well being. Those we educate will have the best chance of jobs in the future. So why is our “education governor” screwing or biggest educational institution? What a political hack with no vision for the future.

  8. Mike says:

    June 12, 2014

    Dear Members of this hearing

    Thank you for your time.

    I support the House bill 331 in its unamended form.

    The University of Delaware (UD) has prevented critical information from being made available to the public related to the January 19, 2011 elimination of the men’s division 1 scholarship eligible cross country and track and field teams. Information that may well have changed the decision if the proper people had this information. The following people and groups were prevented from receiving this information:
    1 – The members of the men’s team at the time of the decision whose lives were forever affected
    2 – The citizens of Delaware and
    3 – from most of the Trustees of the University who approved this terrible decision based on the recommendation of a clandestine subcommittee not subject to FOIA.

    To the best of our knowledge, the Trustees approved this decision based on a recommendation of a subcommittee of the board. There are only a handful of people who were part of that secretive small subcommittee of the board; a subcommittee whose minutes, reports, faulty analysis and other information have been withheld from the public because the current FOIA legislation exempts UD board subcommittees from being subject to FOIA.

    This decision forever:
    1 – Affected the lives of all of the boys of Delaware who no longer have the ability to earn a scholarship in these sports to their own state university, including some Delawareans whom I know could not have attended college without a XC or track and field scholarship.
    2 – Affected the lives of the members of the large men’s cross country and track and field teams, most whom are citizens of the state of Delaware and many of whom came to UD at least in part for the tradition of the 100 year old D1 XC and track teams, and
    3 – Affected the life of Coach Jim Fisher, the beloved track coach at UD for 30 years, who was relieved of his duties after achieving near legendary status in the State of Delaware and across the country for his dedication to the mental, social, academic and physical well-being of the 1000’s of track and field athletes he coached.

    This terrible situation was allowed to occur because the subcommittee of the board of trustees is not subject to FOIA and therefore, it was allowed to withhold information. If such subcommittees are not opened to the FOIA, and unless you pass this bill in its unamended form retroactively, UD will not be required to answer to the citizens who fund its very existence. Citizens who pay approx. $800,000 per year to UD’s president Patrick Harker and approximately $400,000 per year to UD’s Chief council Larry White.

    Just some of the information withheld includes the fact that the men’s cross country and track teams are the LEAST expensive teams for UD when compared to ANY team; men OR women. These facts were not presented to the Trustees or the public as best I know. While under the disguise of Title IX, UD cut the men’s track teams, even though Larry White has admitted that the school was always IN compliance with Title IX. Subsequently UD increased the men’s football team. Were those intentions and that information withheld from the Board of Trustees and the public by the subcommittee? These are despicable actions by a highly paid administration who have negatively affected the course of my son’s life and other student’s lives without repercussion or accountability. Let’s make these highly paid administrators accountable. I will.

    Also withheld from the public was the reason for the decisions, the supporting minutes and discussions, the financial and statistical analysis related to the decisions and, but not limited to a consultant’s report providing advice as to how best to cut the men’s XC and Track teams with the least amount of backlash. We are not sure how much was paid to this consultant so that the subcommittee and the trustees could protect themselves from the legal exposure that will come to them someday.

    Information was also withheld by the University because:
    1 – UD was afraid that if the factual information was disclosed publicly, they would not be able to turf over UD’s indoor track so that the football team could practice indoors, and
    2 – UD was afraid of women’s groups who would have known to fight UD when it added members to the football team after dropping the men’s track teams and touting Title IX as UD’s falsely benevolent compliance reason.

    But did UD want anyone to know those facts – no. Larry White would hang up on me when I called to discuss the matter. President Harker and the then athletic director Bernard Muir (also in the $400,000 compensation range annually) refused to meet with me or even speak with me on the phone. In fact, Mr. White attempted to charge me 10 times what he charged other people for copies of certain documents, seemingly in an attempt to prevent me from having them. In fact he refused my request to speak at the board of trustees meetings, which is permitted under the UD charter.

    Mr. White also refused to provide me with the report of the outside consultant they hired telling them how to best eliminate the men’s teams as noted previously. He refused to provide this report or any other information to me and at least one student on the track team who requested the information. This despicable, arrogant, clandestine and potentially illegal behavior by UD against our kids needs to be stopped.

    My understanding from the State of Delaware Department of Human Relations is that UD has hired a team of lawyers to defend themselves against my son and me, because we have filed a complaint against UD with the State of Delaware related to this matter (#NC-EA-812-12) and the information they have withheld. Why are they protecting this information so intensely, while probably paying attorney’s fees far in excess of what the eliminated teams would have cost them?
    .
    Mr. White’s and President Harker’s careers will be in jeopardy if you pass this bill unamended and retroactively, and they know it. Please do not be intimidated. By them withholding information, they prevented my son from achieving certain goals and ruined an important part of his college life. The continued withholding of information could lead to a substantial lawsuit that I will bring against UD on behalf of my son should the entire situation not be resolved. The continued withholding of information not being subject to FOIA will continue to lead to wrong decisions; decisions that will hurt our kids, our students and the communities of Delaware.

    Please pass HB331 in its unamended form and pass it retroactively.

    Sincerely,

    Mike Grieco
    516-849-5642

  9. Aint's Taking it Any More says:

    Mike:

    If there is a lawsuit to pursue, why not pursue it now. Once in litigation you can subpoena the UofD for all of the information relevant to your son’s claims.

    Don’t know where you are located but in some states (New Jersey comes to mind) you can file suit solely for the purpose of recovering documents.

    Likewise, depending on your location, you could likely file a civil case for damages in your own state court on the premise that the UofD recruits in your state.

    Good luck.

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