Delaware lawmakers gather for new legislative session

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Delaware lawmakers gather for new legislative session

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DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware lawmakers convened a new session of the General Assembly on Tuesday with a host of new faces, and a few old issues to be revisited over the next six months.

With November's election results, five new lawmakers took the oath of office in the 21-member Senate, while 12 rookie lawmakers were sworn in in the 41-member House.

Democrats remain in control of both chambers, with even stronger majorities then they had last year, improving their margin in the Senate from 11-10 to 12-9 and their advantage in the House from 25-16 to 26-15.

They will still need Republican support, however, to pass tax and fee bills and constitutional amendments, including an equal rights amendment to the state constitution to explicitly prohibit sex discrimination. That proposal faces a likely House vote Thursday following a committee hearing Wednesday.

Senate President Pro Tem David McBride, D-New Castle, has promised quick action on the equal rights amendment next week if it passes the House.
"It's somewhat symbolic, I think, but I just want to get it out of there," McBride said Tuesday. "It's one less thing we've got to worry about."

Meanwhile, lawmakers are expected to revisit several proposals that failed to gain much traction in last year's session, including legalizing recreational use of marijuana and prohibiting Delawareans from buying certain types of semiautomatic firearms.

With some gun control measures failing to progress to floor votes last year, including a proposed ban on military-style "assault weapons," McBride said any gun bill introduced this year will go to the Senate Executive Committee, which he chairs, rather than the Judicial Committee.

"I believe the gun bills, the importance of them is such that it should be voted on by the Senate," he said. "I will have a hearing on each one of them, and I will be voting to let them out."

"The gun issue permeates so many different parts of our society, we need as a policymaking body to at least have a discussion on it," McBride added.

Lawmakers also are likely to reconsider legalizing marijuana, a proposal that might have more support this year given the addition of younger, more progressive lawmakers in both chambers. Gov. John Carney, however, remains opposed to the idea.

"Just say no," Carney said in an interview Tuesday. "I don't like the idea. I don't think it's healthy."

Carney also remains opposed to reinstating Delaware's death penalty, which was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 2016. He acknowledged, however, that he would probably sign a bill allowing capital punishment if it were restricted to killers of law enforcement officials.

Carney also said he wants lawmakers to pass election reform measures that would make it easier for residents to vote. Those changes would include allowing same-day registration, early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and moving primary elections to coincide with presidential primaries.

"We should make it easier for people to participate," he said.

It remains unclear whether lawmakers will tackle the thorny issue of county property tax reassessments.

State and county officials have been named as defendants in a lawsuit alleging that Delaware is failing to provide adequate educational opportunities for disadvantaged students.

A Chancery Court judge last year denied separate motions by the state and county defendants to dismiss the lawsuit, which alleges in part that school property tax collections based on outdated assessments are partially to blame for the lack of funding.

While state law does not require that counties conduct reassessments on any particular schedule, it does require that property be assessed at fair market value.

"The counties are responsible for doing that, and they have not met their responsibilities," McBride said. "I think the state needs to be looking at a role in it, because it is not happening, and it should be happening."

Kent County in central Delaware last reassessed property values in 1987, while northern New Castle County's current assessment dates to 1983. Sussex County, home to million-dollar beach homes in Rehoboth Beach and other parts of southern Delaware, last reassessed property values in 1974.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, does not favor reassessment.

"In my district, no, I'm not," said Schwartzkopf, noting that counties and school districts have the ability to raise tax rates based on current assessed values.

Carney said the state should encourage the counties to "do the right thing" with respect to assessments.

"It has to get done, and I wouldn't be surprised if, well, I shouldn't comment on what the judge might do," he said.

 

Source: AP