The Leg Hall Insider: June 7, 2013

School Choice Reform Signed

Stanton Rep. Kim Williams chats with kids from Forest Oak Elementary moments before Gov. Jack Markell signs her House Bill 90 into law Monday. The bill, the first major update to the school choice law in 15 years, simplifies the application process and helps ensure students can attend their chosen school.

School choice allows students to apply to public, charter or vocational technical schools throughout the state without regard to where they live. In the current school year, 28 percent of students utilize some form of school choice within or outside the bounds of their home district.

Read more about HB 90 here.

Roth IRA Bill Advances

The state of Delaware was represented in Congress by the late William V. Roth Jr. for 34 years, but it does not offer its employees a retirement plan option that bears his name.

That is poised to change after the House Administration Committee signed off on legislation Wednesday that would add a Roth option to state-sponsored 403(b) and 457(b) savings plans that currently are offered to eligible teachers and state employees. House Bill 148 would not require the state to contribute any funds into those retirement plans, and plan participants could still choose to make traditional, non-Roth contributions.

Rep. Trey Paradee said the measure is a “simple, straightforward bill” that will not cost taxpayers or the state any money and is long overdue. The Roth option is named after the longtime former U.S. Sen. Roth, who was instrumental in developing the Roth IRA in 1997.

Read more about HB 148 here.

Food Bank of Delaware Honored

Rep. Ed Osienski recognized the Food Bank of Delaware, which is in his district, this week for their hard work and commitment to feeding those in need. Food Bank distributed about 6.2 million pounds of food last year, distributed 84,000 backpacks stocked with food to at-risk youth through its Backpack Program and provided supplemental food boxes to 2,500 seniors per month through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. It did all this with 56 full-time and part-time employees and 50,000 volunteer hours.





Charter School Bill Advances

Legislation overhauling Delaware’s 18-year-old charter school system cleared a House committee this week, but the measure faced some concerns from lawmakers during a 90-minute hearing.

Sponsored by Rep. Earl Jaques, House Bill 165 updates the charter school law to better hold charter schools accountable while strengthening the state’s support for charter schools. The legislation would make it more difficult for low-performing charter schools to exist in Delaware, while providing more flexibility and support to high-performing charter schools, especially those serving the state’s highest-need students.

The bill is on Tuesday’s House agenda.

Oil Spill Penalty Cap Lifted, Refinery Urged to Improve Communication

Gov. Jack Markell signed House Bill 32, sponsored by Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Sen. Nicole Poore, Thursday. The bill lifts a 36-year-old monetary cap for oil spills, both in water and on land. The two lawmakers also authored a resolution that passed the House Thursday that asks the Delaware City Refinery and Norfolk Southern to provide more information about rail shipments of crude oil to the refinery.

The resolution aims to improve communication between the communities and the refinery about their operations and address concerns about issues such as traffic, rail infrastructure, safety, pollution and quiet zones.

Shellfish Aqua Farming Bill Released

A proposal allowing commercial shellfish aqua farming in Delaware’s Inland Bays, which would have significant environmental benefits and could generate millions of dollars in revenue, was released from committee this week.

House Speaker Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, whose district includes Rehoboth Bay and abuts Indian River Bay, said the proposal is the result of a yearlong study led by the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays. The study noted that Delaware is the only coastal state with no commercial shellfish aquaculture, an industry that on the East Coast is valued at $119 million.

Under House Bill 160, commercial shellfish farmers would be permitted to lease one- to five-acre tracts of shellfish grounds in Delaware’s Inland Bays. Farmers could lease up to five acres in Rehoboth and Indian River bays combined and could lease one to five additional acres in Little Assawoman Bay. Leases would be renewable annually for 15 years, at which time the lessee could renew for another 15 years.

Legislative Wrap-Up

The following bills passed the House of Representatives this week:

HB 175 (B. Short) – Implements recommendations to address a 34-percent workers’ compensation rate increase over the last two years, including tighter controls on workers compensation medical costs, ensuring that insurance carriers’ requests for rate increases receive a high level of scrutiny and improving the state’s workplace safety program.
Status: Senate Executive Committee

HB 149 (Carson) – Prohibits insurers from refusing to pay the fire companies and other EMS providers directly, for covered ambulance and other emergency medical services, and would require direct payment of the provider regardless of whether the fire company or other EMS provider is under contract with the insurer, or otherwise in the insurer's network.
Status: Senate Insurance Committee

HB 168 (Mulrooney) – Takes steps to repay federal loan to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund by establishing a one-week waiting period to receive unemployment insurance benefits, increasing taxable wage base depending on UI Trust Fund balance.
Status: Senate Labor & Industrial Relations Committee

The following bills were introduced this week:

HB 152 (Bolden)  – Sets out a process by which a person may bring a complaint before the Commissioner of Elections if that person believes a candidate is running in violation of the residency requirements for a particular office.
Status: House Administration Committee

HB 159 (Jaques) – Prohibits a person from running as a candidate for more than one state, county or municipal office in the same election.
Status: House Administration Committee

HB 170 (D.E. Williams) – Establishes June 30 as an additional mandatory reporting period for political campaign committees.
Status: House Administration Committee