Commentary: Putting special interest over Delaware families

Delaware State News | Opinion | by Rep. John Kowalko

The American Chemistry Council is the well-funded and highly influential (with members of both parties in Delaware) special interest that has flown in professionals (hacks) from as far away as California to keep my bills banning flame retardants from mattresses and children’s products bottled up in committee twice in the last few years.

Joined by all of the Republicans on the two committees (that it was assigned to in recent sessions) a key Democratic member of both committees who serves as chair of the JFC waged a vigorous campaign on behalf of this powerful special interest to keep the bills from being released by the committees.

During the Economic Development Committee hearing in May it was tabled at the behest of Democrat Quinn Johnson and Rep Jeff Spiegelman despite voluminous evidence of those chemicals’ harmful properties and in spite of the support for the legislation from the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association and other health professionals.

Only Rep. Siegried and Rep. Baumbach voted against tabling. Similar (and in many cases stronger) legislation has been passed in more than 15 states despite the American Chemistry Council’s well-funded efforts to cajole legislators. With the wonderful focus and efforts of attorney Debbie Gottschalk I have re-crafted portions of the bill to address some of the concerns of the committee members and intend to bring it back in January for release.

But that’s not the full extent of the American Chemistry Council’s influence over local legislators. They were the prime authors of HB 184, which would bring gasification/incineration of plastics to Delaware. The bill was released by the Natural Resources Committee chaired by Rep. Heffernan who coincidentally was the chair of the first committee that refused to release my toxic flame retardant ban three years previous with the encouragement and belligerence of the Chemistry Council consultant who flew in from California.

Perhaps the most stunning turn of events took place at the May committee hearing when I personally concluded my challenge to Rep. Spiegelman and Rep Johnson with the statement “You’re choosing to put the special interests of the powerful corporations over the health and safety of young children and first responders and all Delaware families if you refuse to allow this bill to the floor” Their silence spoke volumes as to their lack of conscience that is an unacceptable abdication of their responsibilities to Delawarean families.

John Kowalko, a Democrat, represents the 25th district in Newark in the Delaware House of Representatives.

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