The Leg Hall Insider: April 19, 2013

Delaware Senate Passes Background Check Bill

Gun control advocate and husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords Mark Kelly (far right, facing camera) visited Legislative Hall Wednesday to testify in favor of the background checks bill. Beforehand, he met with supportive legislators, including (left to right) Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, Sen. Patti Blevins, Rep. John Viola, Rep. Darryl Scott, Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf.

Legislation closing a loophole by expanding background checks to virtually all firearm purchases passed the Senate Thursday and is headed to Governor Jack Markell for his signature.

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, House Bill 35 expands the existing background check system in place for licensed dealers selling firearms. When the sale does not involve a licensed dealer, no background check is required.  HB 35 closes this loophole by requiring background checks for private sales. The bill includes several exceptions, such as transfers to immediate family members, those with concealed carry permits, qualified law-enforcement officers and certain short-term transfers to persons personally known to the owner.

At least six times since 1990, the General Assembly has considered legislation to address the private sale loophole.  None of those bills ever made it to a floor vote.  HB 35 passed the House last month.

To read more about this bill, click here.

Good Government is not a Partisan Issue

The following op-ed appeared in the April 16 edition of the News Journal.

By House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst and House Majority Whip John Viola

If a recent op-ed penned by State Representatives Danny Short and Deb Hudson is any indication, House Republicans apparently need a refresher course in bipartisan cooperation when it comes to good government.

When Democrats took control of the House in 2009, we immediately set about opening the General Assembly, its processes and records to the public through FOIA. Last session, we updated our lobbying and election disclosure laws to improve access and public communication.

When we did all of this, we involved Republicans and invited them to participate in the process. We asked them to stand with us when we announced the legislation and encouraged a bipartisan approach to good government. In fact, Republicans were co-sponsors on all of these measures. We know that good government is not a partisan issue.

But recently, General Assembly Republicans held a press conference announcing a package of “good government” bills. The event and the proposals were publicized without involving or inviting Democrats to participate. We never saw them until after Republicans had announced them.

What has changed? Why would Republicans feel it necessary to bypass the bipartisan spirit that we have established and followed on good government initiatives? How can these proposals be bipartisan when Republicans won’t circulate or even discuss them before a press conference that Democrats weren’t invited to attend?

Click here to read the entire op-ed.

NAACP President Visits Dover

NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous (left) visited Leg Hall this week to advocate for a number of issues and meet with legislators. He spoke on the House floor about several issues facing the General Assembly and praised members for passing legislation restoring voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. Rep. Darryl Scott (right) was among those who chatted with Mr. Jealous beforehand.

Bill Establishing Marriage Equality Released from Committee

With a 4-1 vote, legislation that would make Delaware the 10th state to establish marriage equality was released from the House Administration Committee this week.

House Bill 75 would establish civil marriage equality for all Delaware families by allowing same-sex couples to marry. Under the bill, same-sex married couples would have the same rights, protections, responsibilities and obligations as opposite-sex married persons under Delaware law. Same-sex couples would be able to apply for marriage licenses from the clerks of the peace.

House sponsor Rep. Melanie George Smith said the legislation is about freedom, fairness and equality. The freedom to marry the person you love, she said, is a basic, fundamental right that should not be denied to anyone. HB 75 would protect religious freedom by explicitly stating that no clergyperson or minister of any religious denomination will ever be required to perform or solemnize any marriage, including a same-sex marriage, that does not conform with his or her religious beliefs.

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.

House Majority Leader Calls on Republicans to Support Access to Voting

House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst called on House Republicans this week to stop withholding support and voting against legislation that would expand access to absentee voting.

Sponsored by Reps. Earl Jaques, John Kowalko and Dennis E. Williams, the measure would amend the Delaware Constitution to remove restrictions on absentee voting and enable the General Assembly to extend absentee voting to all eligible Delaware voters.

House Bill 20 was released from committee a month ago, but languished on the House agenda for six session days before being voted on this week. Because the bill amends the Delaware Constitution, it requires a two-thirds vote to pass, or 28 votes. Despite all 27 Democratic representatives voting for the bill, the measure failed 27-14 when the entire Republican caucus voted against the measure.

Election results from 2012 show both parties benefit from absentee votes. In the 15th Senate District, Republican Sen. David Lawson won the absentee vote by 137 votes, an important component of his overall win by only 543 votes. Former Republican Rep. Lincoln Willis won 56.6 percent of the absentee vote in his race against Rep. Trey Paradee, but captured only 45.7 percent overall.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 27 states and Washington, D.C., already have no-excuse absentee voting. Neighboring states New Jersey and Maryland are among those states.

Legislative Wrap-Up

The following bills passed the House this week:

House Bill 32 (Longhurst) – Eliminates a 35-year-old monetary cap on the fine that can be imposed for oil spills.
Status: Goes to Senate

House Bill 64 (Bennett) – This bill allows parents to “freeze” their minor children’s credit at any time to protect them from identity theft. This bill also allows for credit to be frozen for an incapacitated person by their guardian.
Status: Goes to Senate