Delaware Legislature Begins 2020 Session With Little Action, Lots of Unfinished Business

WRDE | by Tom Lehman

Dover, Del. (WBOC) – Delaware lawmakers briefly returned to session on Tuesday as they kicked off the second leg of the 150th General Assembly.

House and Senate members met for roughly 30 minutes in their respective chambers on a fairly uneventful first day of the 2020 legislative session that saw little action on much of the unfinished business from the previous year.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth) said the legislature may revisit proposals for more gun control restrictions, legalizing marijuana, and hiking the minimum wage to $15 and hour.

Many of those bills, he noted, did not receive a vote on the floor of either chamber in 2019 and remain eligible for potential decisions this year.

“Some of these bills will definitely surface,” he said.

A group of primarily Republican lawmakers have also proposed bringing back the state’s death penalty, which was ruled unconstitutional. A bill altering the capital punishment statute to make it constitutional failed to receive a floor vote in 2019.

Lawmakers this session will also tend with how to spend or save a projected $200 million surplus. Gov. John Carney (D) is set to announce his proposed spending plan for the fiscal year later this month.

Gun control proposals remain in committee

One issue some expect to see debated is gun control.

Democratic lawmakers last year proposed a trio of gun control bills that create a permit to purchase system for firearms in the state, enact a ban on so-called “assault weapons,” and limit the size of magazines.

Supporters have said they believe the legislation could prevent a mass shooting like one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 that left more than 20 people, mostly children, dead.

The bills were met with fierce opposition from gun rights advocates and were not released from a committee this year. They could potentially be reconsidered and voted on by the full Senate and sent to the House in 2020.

“People expect us to take action on at least three bills, or at least some measure like these three bills,” said Rep. Sean Lynn (D-Dover)

But Jeff Hague with the Delaware State Sporstmen’s Association said opposition to the legislation remains strong—and gun rights supporters, like the more than 200 people who crashed a 2019 press conference announcing the proposals, are closely watching what the legislature does.

“The answer is not banning objects, the answer getting to the source of the problem, which is persons and what people do,” he said.

Minimum wage debate could intensify

Although legislators did not act in 2019 on a Senate bill to gradually hike the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, the proposal could return for consideration this year.

A small group of union members and Democratic lawmakers gathered outside the statehouse on Tuesday afternoon to call for raising the minimum wage.

Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark) was among the group and said a higher minimum wage would benefit commerce in the state because workers who are currently earning lower wages could spend more money on goods and services.

“This is an economic driver,” he said.

Daisy Cruz, an officer with Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ, said people cannot survive on Delaware’s minimum wage, which was raised to $9.25 in 2019.

The minimum wage hike was also coupled with a provision that allows employers to pay young or inexperienced workers .50 cents less than the minimum wage as a “training wage.”

“Raising the minimum wage will help people’s lives,” Cruz said.

But some lawmakers like Rep. Bryan Shupe (R-Milford) believe the proposal will hurt small employers who cannot afford to pay workers at the higher rate.

“The trouble is the small business owners who cannot afford to make that, who need to make the bottom line,” he said.

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