Update, and bills to know about, in the Delaware General Assembly…..

The 147th Delaware General Assembly is almost finished–June 30th is the statutory deadline for it to end.  Is it doing more harm than good?  Is the pot half full or half empty?  I suppose this depends on one’s point of view.  If you believe Delaware’s government should focus on helping special interests exploit the people, the GA is doing nicely.  If, on the other hand, you think government should help and protect human beings and our natural resources, the results are looking pretty miserable.  Why?

The Governor and both houses of the legislature are controlled by Democrats, so the results can’t be blamed on Republicans.  But Governor Markell is likely Delaware’s worst governor since “Pete” Dupont (1977 to 1985), and House Speaker Peter C. Schwartzkopf is as pure an Enemy of the People as could easily be found.

Still, an important factor is public input.  That’s the point of us writing about legislation. Speak up!

HB 331 – freedom of information

Our June 11th Alert urged people to “support HB 331 to open up the University of Delaware.”  This bill was reported out of the House Administration Committee but with an amendment that gutted it.  Rep. John Kowalko says he will be back next year with another bill.

SB19–death penalty repeal

Veteran newspaperman Don Flood reports in the Cape Gazette that a bill to repeal Delaware’s death penalty passed the Senate but is stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. The prime sponsor of SB19 is Sen. Karen Peterson, but the bill has bipartisan support.  Flood concludes:

 Delaware’s handling of capital cases may be better than other states, but it’s not only imperfect, it’s capricious. Which means the death penalty has to go.

Barring some extraordinary change, that won’t happen this year, but Kathleen MacRae, executive director for the ALCU of Delaware, said that her organization and its 29 coalition partners will be back again fighting for repeal.

Eventually, the logic and justice of their cause will overcome the opposition. The only question is when.

SB 198

This bill, sponsored by Sen. David McBride, originated in the DNREC and is connected to Delaware’s scandalous “brownfields” (non) cleanup laws.  The bill is objected to by various orgs for eliminating a public hearing that is otherwise required.   A June 6th email from DNREC manager Marjorie Crofts is revealing:

“As the director who took the lead in preparing this legislation, Secretary O’Mara asked me to respond to your concerns.  This proposed legislation does not impact the public notice process for proposed and final plans.  It is limited to the state taking over remediation of a site.  Currently, if a responsible party (the person who caused the contamination) wants to go ahead and get their property cleaned up, they enter into our Voluntary Cleanup Program.  They arrange to have the work done with DNREC’s oversight.  In some cases, the responsible party stops doing the work.   If efforts on our part fail to get them moving on it, DNREC may decide to take it over and then attempt to cost recover from the responsible party.  Currently, we have to have a public hearing and then do an Secretary’s Order (assuming we prevail at the hearing).   In all our other enforcement statutes, DNREC does the order first and then the violator has the right to request a hearing.   We’ve held these hearings and have yet to have anyone put up a defense.  RPs don’t show up or don’t show up with counsel.  However, DNREC needs to prepare its case, hire a court reporter, spend funds on notices, etc.  We haven’t seen it as an efficient use of state funds.  This bill just makes it so in these cases, DNREC can issue a Secretary’s Order and the RP does have the right to request a public hearing.  And even if we take over a site, we need to public notice both the proposed and final plans and the public has the right to request a hearing on them.

The fiduciary language was put in at the request of the Delaware Bankers Association  (emphasis added by Muller) to cover lending organizations that don’t participate in the management or operation of the site as being held liable.  It was taken from the federal CERCLA and has been in place for several years at the national level.”

Note:  Crofts makes no mention of citizens wanting a hearing.  She seems concerned only with “responsible parties.”  The reason a public hearing should be automatic is that most of the cleanup plans are not cleanup plans.  They are more coverup plans.  This would take away an opportunity for the public to object.  Maybe it was triggered by the Vlasic pickle plant tramadol episode where the public objected–though perhaps not very artfully–at a big but farcicial hearing.

Of course, the DNREC never considers it “efficient” to allow public participation.  As for what the bankers want, if they take an equity interest in a property without due diligence, they should bear the responsibility.  It used to be that “if you own the property, you own the environmental liabilities” was clear and settled.  various interests have worked to dilute this, with success.

HB 286

This truly vile bill would make it easier for bill collectors to intercept tax refunds and otherwise harass people who might have debts.  Official Synopsis:

 “This bill creates a procedure under which a person who has obtained a judgment in any court of the State of Delaware may have the Department of Finance intercept tax refunds and lottery winnings to satisfy such judgment. The bill also requires any person who has a wage attachment entered against them for an unsatisfied judgment to change their employment information if incorrect. The bill also requires a person who has a wage attachment against them to inform an employer and ensure a wage attachment is occurring with the correct employer.”

I say *might* have debts because the debt collection industry has a well-established record of misconduct.  A letter on HB 286 signed by the Delaware chapter of Americans for Democratic Action notes:

“As the industry has grown, abuses and illegal — predatory — practices have proliferated.Companies are using abusive and unlawful methods to collect on debt — too often on debt that the targeted consumers do not even owe. According to an FTC analysis, only 6 percent of debt accounts purchased by some of the largest debt buyers in 2009 came with any documentation, according to an FTC analysis. Overwhelmed courts make the problem worse by awarding judgments to debt collectors based on false, forged, or misleading information. Like the robo-signing scandal that rubber-stamped thousands of illegal foreclosures, debt collection lawsuits frequently end in rubber-stamped—and erroneous—judgments against consumers.”

Given that so many Delawareans are struggling financially, why would the General Assembly want to shift the balance even more strongly against them?

Look at the roll call on HB 286.  Only SIX representatives voted against it.  Honor Role:

Paul S. Baumbach,  Gerald L. BradyHelene M. KeeleyJohn A. Kowalko Jr.Harold J. Peterman, and  James JohnsonGive them a call.

Many of those voting FOR this bill have many low income constituents and have portrayed themselves as “progressive” legislators.  This Sub-Role-of-Shame includes:

Earl G. Jaques Jr (302.834.9231),  Charles Potter Jr. (302.762.8322), and  Edward S. Osienski (302.292.8903).  Give them a call and ask them why
House Bills 327 and 328

See the commentary on these bills from Delaware ADA.

The Data Center” and HB 410

Another Markell-connected scam, this one is an attempt to sneak in a large power plant as an accessory to a data center.  (The proposed power plant is many times larger than could be justified by the electrical needs of a real data center.)  The City of Newark, and the University of Delaware, once deep into it, have been backing off under pressure from outraged citizens.

But a scam of this size has broad appeal and a lot of pressure is being brought to bear on the City and the University to stay on board.  For instance, ever-troublemaking Sen. Harris B. McDowell has cooked up a scheme to withhold $3 million of state money from the University until it caves.

House Bill 410 would shut down Newark’s Alderman’s Court.  There are 6 such local courts in Delaware, often perceived as moneymakers because the local governments get to keep the fines levied.  In 2009 the Newark court reported a caseload of 15,888, about as many as the other five put together. HB 410 targets only Newark, an obvious attempt at intimidation.  Rep. John Kowalko described HB 410 as “an intolerable abuse of the power of the legislature.”

The dishonor role of legislators sponsoring this bill:  (Home phone numbers listed.  Really, seriously, call these people and let them know how you feel about HB 410.)

Rep.  Michael P. Mulrooney (302.322.1249)

Sen.  Harris B. McDowell III (302.577.8744)

Rep. Dennis E. Williams (302.373.0115)

Ending with a piece of good news

Do you remember the scheme to put an incinerator just outside the City of New Castle?  This was, per usual, promoted by the Delaware Economic Development Office and some in the DNREC.  Green Delaware insisted the proposal was an incinerator under Delaware law and thus not allowed at the proposed location.  The DNREC eventually agreed.  See the official letter here.    Thanks to Amy Roe of the Sierra Club for keeping up with this.  Two other proposed incinerators in Sussex County still threaten.

Alan Muller

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