Delaware legislative session includes many holdover issues
DOVER, Del. (AP) — While a new legislative session is under way in Delaware, many issues this year involve bills left hanging at the conclusion of last year's session.
They include Democrats' gun control and marijuana legalization measures.
Meanwhile, revenue projections have increased by more than $200 million since September. That could give lawmakers more latitude in deciding how to spend taxpayer money.
Here's a look at some of the issues expected to be addressed during this year's session.
After failed attempts in 2018, Senate Democrats reintroduced bills to ban certain semiautomatic firearms deemed "assault weapons" by gun foes, along with large-capacity magazines.
Democrats also proposed requiring any Delawarean wanting to buy a firearm to first obtain a state-issued "purchaser card, " which would require being fingerprinted.
After critics blasted the proposals as unconstitutional restrictions on gun ownership, the Democratic Senate president announced last year that support for the measures was "almost nonexistent," and that they would not be coming out of a committee he leads.
The bills remain up for consideration this year but it's unclear whether they can garner enough support to pass.
Democrats also are proposing to outlaw so-called “ghost guns," which can be assembled at home from parts that don't bear serial numbers or other identifying marks.
Democrats introduced a bill last year to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults.
The proposal cleared the House Revenue and Finance Committee after a two-hour hearing but was never brought up for a floor vote.
Bill sponsors said it would generate revenue. It calls for a government-run industry that would create jobs while paying licensing fees and taxes. State government would collect a 15% tax on sales of marijuana products, as well as licensing fees for cultivation, manufacturing, sales and testing facilities.
Democratic Gov. John Carney remains wary of legalizing pot, and the proposal faces bipartisan opposition in the General Assembly.
A proposal to increase Delaware's minimum wage to $15 an hour cleared the Democrat-led Senate Labor Committee last year but didn't receive a hearing in the Finance Committee and wasn't brought to the floor.
A small group of advocates rallied outside Legislative Hall on Tuesday to support the proposal.
The bill introduced last year called for increasing the minimum wage to $11 on Jan. 1, followed by a $1 raise at the start of each year until it hits $15 in 2024. Future increases would then be automatically tied to increases in the consumer price index.
Democrats introduced the bill despite a minimum-wage increase that was rammed through the General Assembly on the final day of the 2018 session. Under that bill, the minimum wage increased 50 cents to $8.75 in January 2019 and to $9.25 per hour on Oct. 1.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzopf, a Rehoboth Democrat, said Tuesday that $15 an hour was "problematic" in his district, where restaurants and other small businesses cater to beach tourists.
Critics also have said raising the hourly minimum wage to $15 would cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in pay increases for state government workers and contractors, lead to less hiring and create barriers for young people trying to enter the workforce.
Meanwhile, lawmakers are expected to consider a separate Democratic proposal to increase the minimum wage for tipped employees, which currently is $2.23 per hour. The bill mandates that tipped workers be paid at least 65% of Delaware's minimum wage. Under the current minimum wage of $9.25 per hour, the tipped wage minimum wage would increase to $6.01 per hour.
House lawmakers last year approved the first leg of an amendmen t that would eliminate Delaware's constitutional limits regarding when a person can vote by absentee ballot.
The measure, which would authorize the General Assembly to enact general laws regarding rules for absentee voting, failed to win the required supermajority in the Senate. Some lawmakers have suggested trying to rescind the Senate roll call this week and holding another vote to clear the way for "no excuse" absentee voting.
Even if the measure wins Senate approval, it would require similar supermajority votes by the next General Assembly.
A state panel last month increased Delaware's official revenue projections for the current and upcoming fiscal years by more than $200 million compared to September's estimates.
That could give lawmakers more latitude in deciding how, and how much, taxpayer money should be spent.
Schwartzkopf, the House speaker, said the extra money could help fund a proposal to improve water quality statewide.
A bill introduced last year calls for the creation of a Clean Water Trust to manage spending recommendations from Delaware's Water Infrastructure Advisory Council.
Supporters of the measure say most of Delaware's waters don't meet designated water quality standards, and that more than $500 million in water and wastewater system upgrades are needed over the next five years, including more than $150 million in stormwater upgrades.
The bill proposes that clean water projects be funded with several existing revenue sources, including combined allocations at least $25 million annually from Delaware's personal income tax, gross receipts tax, realty transfer tax and corporate income tax.
"We're looking at trying to get some of that money out of the $200 million. ... We're not raising anybody's taxes," Schwartzkopf said Tuesday.