DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware is "strong, and getting stronger," Democratic Gov. John Carney said Thursday in his State of the State speech to members of the General Assembly.
Carney used the opportunity to tout his administration's efforts to boost Delaware's economy, improve public education and ensure the state spends taxpayer money wisely. While offering few new proposals, he said officials need to build on those efforts and work together in a bipartisan manner.
"Delawareans are tired of the fighting in Washington, D.C.," Carney said. "They're tired of gridlock and negativity, and of politics as usual. They want us, they're asking us, to be different here in Delaware."
But Carney's support for renewed efforts to restrict gun ownership could see hopes of bipartisanship devolve into partisan bickering in the legislature over the next six months.
"Maybe we ought to be looking at what we can get done, versus what we would like to get done that is going to create controversy," said House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford.
Short's comments came amid renewed talk among Democrats to ban certain types of semiautomatic firearms that gun-control advocates have labeled "assault weapons." A proposed ban failed to gain traction in the legislature last year.
Among the few new initiatives Carney proposed Thursday was the creation of a $10 million Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund that could be quickly tapped for economic development projects.
Carney also wants to expand a student loan repayment program for teachers working in high-needs schools, and payment rates for subsidized early childhood care. He also reiterated the need to provide more funding for disadvantaged students, including poor children and those whose native language is not English.
"Simply spending more is not a guaranteed solution to the problem," he cautioned. "... I am prepared to invest in better education programs that actually achieve real results for children at risk."
Carney also signaled that he may propose a pay raise for state employees when he unveils his budget proposal next week, an idea supported by Democratic House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf.
"State employees have been left behind for quite a few years," Schwartzkopf said. "Whenever we can help them out, I think we should."
Turning to social issues, Carney said he supports legislation to raise the age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 and to ban guns made by 3-D printers and guns whose component parts can be purchased in pieces, with no serial number, then assembled at home.
The governor also thanked Democratic Senate President Pro Tem David McBride for pledging a full, open debate for a proposed "assault weapons" ban. After a proposed ban failed to get a Senate floor vote last year, McBride said this month that he will assign any gun control bills introduced this year to a committee he chairs himself.
Sen. Bryan Townsend, who sponsored last year's proposed ban, said he will reintroduce legislation this year.
"I believe if it's given a full debate, it will pass," said Townsend, D-Newark.
Schwartzkopf said he is pleased the issue is being revisited.
"The bill last year basically didn't take guns from anybody, it basically just said 'We're not selling any more,' and I can live with that," he said.
Schwartzkopf dismissed concerns that lawmakers could get bogged down over gun-control issues.
"Gun violence is not a political issue. It's not a partisan issue," he said.
Jeff Hague, a lobbyist for the Delaware State Sportsmen's Association, agreed that gun violence is not a political issue. But he also noted that the so-called "assault weapons" being targeted by gun-control advocates are not part of the problem.
"People are not using those firearms to commit gun violence," he said.
Schwartzkopf said he is worried about could happen in the future.
"Don't think that just because we haven't had it happen here yet, that it's not possible," said Schwartzkopf, who also favors a ban on large-capacity magazines for semiautomatic firearms, including handguns.