by James DeChene
This week was the first in the four-week sprint to June 30. Highlights this week included: HB110, the legalization of marijuana bill was released out of House Revenue and Finance committee. DSCC remains opposed to the bill for reasons such as restrictions in how employers can create employment policies surrounding marijuana use, the current difficulty for employers finding qualified applicants that can pass a drug screen (which we think will be exacerbated by legalization) and the lack of a spot test for impairment.
SB105, the bill that would raise Delaware’s minimum wage to $11 in January 2020 and then by a dollar each year until it hits $15 in 2024 (with an imbedded escalator to raise with cost of living), was tabled in committee this week, HOWEVER, it will be heard in Senate Labor Committee next Wednesday, June 12. This will be one of the Key Votes (along with HB110) that DSCC will be using when making the decision on whether to support candidates.
Also this week was the State Chamber’s End-of-Session Brunch. Attendees heard from Tim Holly, chair of the DSCC Employer Advocacy Committee, on HB110, from Gary Stockbridge, DSCC Chairman, Chair of the Delaware Workforce Development Board (DWDB) and President of Delmarva Power, on what the DWDB is up to and how members can help in workforce training. We then heard from Solomon Adote from the Delaware Department on Technology & Information on the Cyber Security Council and the work they are doing to develop best practices on how to combat cybersecurity threats.
Rounding out the morning were remarks from House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf on what to expect in June, including legislation on clean water, medical and recreational marijuana, education investments and how the state budget is shaping up. Senate President David McBride offered his perspective including acknowledging efforts by the General Assembly and the State Chamber to help provide economic development opportunities in Delaware. He also discussed what the Senate will be working on, including minimum wage in committee, education and transportation infrastructure investment
by Mark DiMaio
The Chamber’s annual End-of-Session Legislative Brunch was held on June 7 at Dover Downs. The brunch marked the last official event for retiring Chamber President, Rich Heffron.
Attendees heard from Kurt Foreman, President & CEO of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership. Kurt discussed Delaware’s current economic situation as being “a glass half full.” Delaware has experienced moderate employment growth, with the construction sector leading the way and other employment sectors showing modest growth. Housing starts are the strongest they’ve been in several years and Delaware’s housing affordability is more positive than the US market overall. Mr. Foreman shared the Delaware Prosperity Partnership’s four main areas of focus:
James DeChene, the Chamber’s Sr. Vice President of Government Affairs, spoke about the “Tale of Two Budgets.” Last year Delaware faced a $400 million-dollar budget shortfall followed by a nearly $400 million-dollar budget surplus this year. The fundamental question here is how we can make the budget process easier, and more efficient and accurate. Boom and bust cycles may be natural, but helping to smooth the highs and lows will help put Delaware on more stable, certain financial footing. The Chamber strongly supports a bipartisan plan put forward by the Governor and State Treasurer to create a true “rainy day” fund to be used in lean budget times and added to in good economic times. This proposed plan requires a constitutional amendment, and requires passing changes to our tax structure and limits on spending. The constitutional amendment needs to be passed this year, as it takes two consecutive legislative sessions to become a part of Delaware Constitution.
Attendees also heard from Senate Pro Tempore David McBride and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf. Senator McBride highlighted the state’s budget and the fact that it would be completed well before the end of June. However, he wasn’t sure that the Senate would pass the minimum wage bill this year. He gave credit to the State Chamber for its role in the passage of the Coastal Zone Modernization Act last session. Representative Schwartzkopf spoke on the passage of legislation to bring $580 million dollars of private investment to the Port of Wilmington. He also pointed to the state budget’s restoration of the senior drug program, funding for special education and salary increases for teachers.
This year’s Small Business Guardian awards were presented to Senator Brian Pettyjohn and Representative Harvey Kenton.
by James DeChene
June 7th was the Chamber’s End of Session Legislative Brunch held at Dover Downs. Over 200 attendees heard from Ed Ratledge, Director of the Center for Applied Demography and Survey Research at University of Delaware, and Bob Perkins, Executive Director of the Delaware Business Roundtable, on issues impacting Delaware, the state budget going forward, and how best to foster economic development growth. Among the highlights were items previously mentioned in this space:
Attendees also heard from Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride and Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, who highlighted the state’s budget issues, their respective positions on economic development legislation, including modernizing the Coastal Zone Act, and the reorganization of the Delaware Economic Development Office. They also stressed the need for increased revenues to fund health care and education, the state’s two fastest growing expenses, which together account for over half of the budget. Their remarks adumbrated the potential for further revenue increases beyond the Governor’s proposed 50-50 split of new revenue and expense reductions.
The House Natural Resources Committee voted 9-1 to release HB 190, a bill to modernize the Coastal Zone Act. It will face a floor vote next week. The hearing featured passionate testimony from both supporters and opponents, with supporters focusing on the need for the redevelopment of industrial sites currently a blight on Delaware’s landscape. Chamber President Rich Heffron suited up (literally and figuratively) to deliver the Chamber’s position of support. More updates to come next week as the bill continues to see action.
by James DeChene
This week the Sussex and Kent County Advisory Committees met. In Sussex, attendees heard from DELDOT Secretary Cohan, who gave an overview of pending infrastructure projects across the state, particularly across Sussex. Updates included hearing the latest timeline for the 301 project, plans to improve Rt. 24 and Rt.9, and how the Lewes Transportation Improvement District is working to improve beach travel.
At the Kent County meeting, along with an overview of pending legislation in Dover, members enjoyed a gemütlich conversation on the recent Kent County Economic Development strategy session to help make Dover, and the surrounding areas, an economic development powerhouse for Delaware.
JFC continues to meet to formulate the state’s budget. So far, cuts have been made to the senior citizen property tax credit, along with a few other programs. Meetings continue into next week, and then the General Assembly goes back into session on June 6th for its sprint to the finish for this year.
Don’t forget our upcoming End of Session brunch on June 7th. It’s a great way for members to develop a healthy gemeinschaft with their elected officials and other Chamber members.
by James DeChene
Legislators returned to Dover this week working to finalize the remaining bits of business, including the budget, prior to adjourning at the end of the month. Congratulations are in order for Representative Debbie Hudson (R-Fairthorne) and Senator Brian Bushweller (D-Dover) for winning this year’s Small Business Guardian award presented at the State Chamber’s End of Legislative Session Brunch.
Of note this week, was an economic development bill (HB 396) that would streamline the permitting process for any industrial or office project (but not residential or commercial) that did not require a rezoning and would be greater than a certain size (75,000 square feet or would create at least 60 permanent jobs). A special expedited review process would be made available for a fee that would guarantee review and comments from the County within 2 weeks from the initial plan submission, and review and comments within 2 weeks from final plan submission.
There would still need to be a Planning Board hearing, and review by State agencies through PLUS (Preliminary Land Use Service), and this new, expedited process would signal a real commitment by the counties to work with major new employers and demonstrate that the State is serious about economic development and putting an end to what is perceived as an interminable review process that does not compare favorably with surrounding jurisdictions.
The State Chamber testified in support of the bill, which seeks to replicate successes Middletown has seen with companies like Amazon and Johnson Controls, which now goes the House floor for a vote.
by James DeChene
Last week was the 2nd Annual Small Business in Dover day hosted by the State Chamber’s Small Business Alliance. Over 50 employers came to Legislative Hall, first to attend a Small Business Caucus meeting, and then to meet with legislators prior to the start of the day’s legislative session.
Attendees heard from Small Business Caucus co-chairs Representatives Daniel Short (R-Seaford) and Quinn Johnson (D-Middletown) about upcoming legislation impacting the business community. In addition they heard from other attending legislators including Ruth Briggs-King (R-Georgetown), Rich Collins (R-Millsboro), Paul Baumbach (D-Newark), Bryon Short (D-Highland Woods), Jeff Spiegelman (R-Clayton), Mike Ramone (R-Middle Run Valley) about the best ways to interact with their legislators. Feedback included favoring personal outreach through either telephone calls or email, and Representatives urged the business community to be vocal about the issues important to them adding that it is important to contact legislators representing both your business and residential addresses. The most important voice in the legislature is yours.
After the Small Business Caucus meeting business representatives had the opportunity to meet with their legislators to make that personal contact and to share stories about their companies. Afterwards attendees were able to watch both the House and Senate go about their legislative business of the day.
If you missed Small Business Day, join us on June 7th for our Small Business Conference & End-of-Session Legislative Brunch. Attended by members of the General Assembly, this is another opportunity to showcase your business and tell the story of how pending legislation will impact your business. For more details visit our website.
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.