Rep. Sean Matthews: 2015 Legislative and Community Review

 

Dear Neighbor,

Below you will find a report I have prepared summarizing my legislative efforts in Dover this year, the first half of the two-year 148th General Assembly. The report also reviews notable pieces of legislation that I was privileged to support, as well as an update on my activities in our local communities.

At the conclusion of the report, I offer my thoughts on the significant budgetary challenges facing Delaware in 2016. As always, I appreciate your views on these important issues and encourage you to contact me with your feedback at any time. 

Thanks,

 

Sean

 

Carvel State
Office Building

820 N. French Street
11th Floor
Wilmington, DE 19801
(302) 577-8476

Legislative Hall
411 Legislative Avenue 
Dover, DE 19901
(302) 744-4351


End of Session Update 

My first six months:

I proposed six bills and one resolution in my first six months in the General Assembly. All except one bill were signed into law. The bill (House Bill 129) recently underwent some changes that I hope will help it to pass in 2016. HB 129 would change the threshold for snowplow reimbursement for neighborhoods that have streets that lead directly to a school. If passed, this would benefit any families throughout the 10th District who send their children to Hanby Elementary. Under HB 129, Chalfonte (the subdivision in which Hanby Elementary is located) would be reimbursed for snowplowing of the streets that lead directly to the school starting at 2 inches of snowfall instead of the current 4 inches. This would improve safety for the whole school community.

 

Two other bills that I proposed were inspired by 10th District constituents and have been signed into law by Gov. Markell. One of my constituents wanted to purchase an “autocycle,” which is a cross between a car and a motorcycle. House Bill 98 helped create the process for which a Delaware driver could be licensed to drive an “autocycle.” Another constituent whose child is unable to receive vaccines for medical reasons approached me with concerns about the school vaccine program and keeping our vaccination rates high to protect those who for medical reasons couldn't be vaccinated. I worked with the Department of Health on House Bill 91 which strengthened the school vaccine program and gave parents the opportunity to seek medically sound information about vaccines. 

Other bills that I sponsored:

  • House Bill 157: This legislation will update the Delaware Code and provide a level of protection for the public that would seek services in a freestanding emergency department by clearly defining the scope of practice.(Signed into law) 
  • HB 119: This bill removes the prohibition on selling an alcoholic beverage to a person with a mental condition or mental disability. The prohibition is a vestige from the 1935 Code, predates enactment of the federal ADA and Delaware Equal Accommodations Law, and is overly broad.
    (Signed into law)
     
  • HB 21: This bill removes the $10 administrative fee for applicants requesting the Gold Star family special license plate in recognition of a close relative’s death while serving in the military.
    (Signed into law)
     
  • House Concurrent Resolution 29: This concurrent resolution recognizes the week of May 4-8, 2015 as “Teacher Appreciation Week.”
    (Passed by Senate and House) 

 

Other important bills debated by the General Assembly:

  • House Bill 75: Juvenile Expungement
    This bill allows a court to consider an expungement where the individual has demonstrated rehabilitation despite multiple youthful indiscretions. When a person cannot find employment because of mistakes they made as a youth, they are less likely to be productive, safe and happy members of society.
     
  • Senate Joint Resolution 1: Statewide Rape Kit Audit
    This Joint Resolution mandates that the Department of Justice oversee an audit of all untested and unsubmitted sexual assault kits in Delaware. This resolution also establishes a work group tasked with creating systemic changes to ensure proper testing of all sexual assault kits in the future.
     
  • House Bill 60: ABLE Act
    This legislation allows Delawareans with disabilities to save money for schooling, housing, transportation and other life expenses. The state law is based on the federal ABLE Act (Achieving a Better Life Experience,) which allows individuals with disabilities to create tax-advantaged savings accounts, similar to federal 529 college-savings accounts. 
     
  • House Bill 50: Standardized Testing Opt-Out
    This bill codifies the right of parents to withhold their students’ participation in the statewide standardized test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Under HB 50, parents would submit a written optout declaration to their student’s school at least two days prior to testing, and schools would provide the student with “alternative educational activities” during testing time. HB 50 also protects opt-out students from any adverse academic or disciplinary action as a result of opt-out. This bill was vetoed, but a veto override vote can be taken in January. As an educator, I know that Federal and State policies towards standardized testing have created an atmosphere of “toxic testing” and I hope that HB 50 empowers parents to push back against these policies.
     
  • House Bill 140: Division of Motor Vehicles Fees
    The DMV fee bill is an investment in our infrastructure and our state’s future. It means more middle class jobs, provides for safer roads and helps Delaware be more competitive in attracting businesses. The bill will generate $330 million in funds for infrastructure projects throughout Delaware over the next 6 years. 51 new or previously delayed projects are now scheduled to move forward with these funds. An additional $50 million this year has been dedicated to repaving and bridge maintenance statewide using this new money.
     
  • House Concurrent Resolution 46: Police Body Cameras
    This resolution encourages state and local agencies to formulate a uniform body camera policy for use by police agencies across Delaware. HCR 46 asks law enforcement groups to collaborate with the Department of Safety and Homeland Security and the Attorney General’s Office to examine questions related to the deployment and use of body cameras.

 


Our neighborhoods:

I've been to numerous community meetings and made contact with many civic association leaders. If your civic association is having a meeting and would like me to attend, please contact my office. Additionally, if you have any questions about state issues, call my office any time.

These days my youngest son Declan has been getting up at 5 AM. The only thing that gets him back to sleep is a car ride. I have been using this early morning car ride to not only get him back to sleep, but also to collect and report pothole locations. So far, I've been able to report potholes in a large portion of the district. If you see a silver station wagon driving slowly and stopping frequently in your neighborhood early one morning, don't panic, it's just me recording pothole locations. Additionally, if you see a pothole that hasn't been fixed, please contact my office.


My thoughts on the upcoming budget cycle:

Our state faced a $60 million shortfall this year and is projected to face a shortfall of nearly $150 million next year. A bipartisan panel recently released a report detailing some of the structural problems of Delaware's revenue system (click here to read this report.)

Among other findings, this report showed:

  • Delaware relies too much on dwindling and unreliable revenue sources (unclaimed property, casinos, etc);
     
  • Delaware's revenue doesn't grow when the economy grows;
     
  • Delaware has too many unsustainable tax breaks; and
     
  • Relative to other states, Delaware's state budget is covering significantly more of the costs of “local” services (schools, public safety, roads, etc).

The report also offered some solutions to help stabilize Delaware's budget and grow our economy. In short, to solve this problem, some expenses will need to be cut and some revenue will need to be raised. This is a balanced and responsible approach that will not please people who are reflexively anti-tax or reflexively anti-cut, but it is just this type of balanced and responsible approach that we need.

I've heard from some that Delaware's budget is “bloated.” While there was some historic bloat that was drastically reduced during the economic recession, and there is some current spending that I would like to see cut, there are not enough cuts to solve our looming deficit on their own.

Here is what makes Delaware unique: Nationwide, the revenue that pays for non-Federal government services amounts to, on average, 46% from local (city, town, county) sources and 54% from state sources. However, in Delaware only 20% of revenue comes from local sources and 80% comes from state sources. In fact, Delaware's local property tax burden is the 47th lowest in the nation. In other words, the money that pays for what are traditionally considered “local” government services in other states (roads, schools, public safety) comes from “state” sources at over twice the national average in Delaware.

In this way, Delaware's state budget isn't bloated, but rather different than other states. Combine this with the fact that, adjusted for population growth and inflation, Delaware's annual budget growth is at its lowest point in 30 years, and any notion of “out of control” spending fades away.

When you sent me to Dover, one of the messages that I heard loud and clear was that you wanted a problem-solver to work together in a bipartisan manner to get things done for you. I am always looking for ways to make government more efficient, but to be clear: I am likely going to have to support raising revenue next year to help balance our budget and avoid drastic cuts to schools, public safety, and services for children, people with disabilities and seniors.

Times are tough, but now is not the time to run and hide. For every $1 we invest in our infrastructure, $3 is returned to the economy. Now is the time to continue to closely monitor existing spending and, where possible, invest significant money in our state's infrastructure. As we enter these difficult times, I challenge us all to listen to each other and to remain open minded as we work together to stabilize and grow Delaware's economy.