By James DeChene, Armitage DeChene & Associates
The General Assembly gaveled out of session early on July 1, 2020 in what was the earliest ending in recent memory due to what has been an almost indescribable year to date. With little to no drama on the money bills (Budget, Grants in Aid, and Bond) as they were passed on June 29th, the General Assembly was left to close out a few bills on consent agendas.
The Senate said goodbye to retiring Senator Harris McDowell, and the House bid farewell to retiring Representative Quinn Johnson. This means that for next session there will be two new co-chairs for the Joint Finance Committee and both the Senate and House Energy Committees will have new chairs as well.
As the General Assembly came back to session in January, members seemed poised to pass a series of legislation that included increasing Delaware’s minimum wage, expanding worker’s rights, and increasing the role and presence of private and public employee unions. Those bills largely went nowhere, and with the COVID-19 pandemic altering how the legislature would work, those bills were placed on hold until next year.
The same can be said for legislation the business community supported as well. Efforts to invest in clean water infrastructure, building a new high school in the City of Wilmington, modifying the state’s offerings of Association Health Plans and creating new workforce training platforms (more on that later) all took a pause as well.
That said, a number of bills important to the business community were introduced, and some were acted on in the final weeks of this session. They included:
In the midst of three months of uncertainty, countless Zoom meetings with Governor Carney, members and staff from his Administration, the chambers of commerce community, stakeholder groups and others, there were a number of positives that were announced, and work completed ahead of schedule.
The State Chamber has long been an advocate for rural broadband development and adoption. Last year’s announcement of BlooSurf, a project to bring broadband to western Sussex and Kent counties was met with fierce approval. Originally slated to be completed in 18-24 months, the project was able to be completed in just over 12 by using federal CARES Act funds to speed up the building process. In July 2020, 15 towers are set to be completed. Efforts to promote residential adoption of broadband will roll out soon after in preparation for what could be another school year of distance learning. Now children in these communities will be able to be active participants. Similar broadband adoption efforts are taking place in Wilmington with the similar goal of making sure all children have access to distance learning efforts.
For the last year, the State Chamber has pushed for the creation of a workforce training program similar to what has worked with ZipCode Wilmington. A compressed, 40-hour week training schedule focusing on in-demand career paths that will help transition low-skill workers into better paying jobs. While the legislation creating this program was not worked on this year, we continue to work with Governor Carney and his Administration on creative ways to implement such a program, especially in light of the potential permanent job losses related to COVID-19.
Between now and January 2021, when the 151st General Assembly convenes, much will have happened:
There remains a great deal of uncertainty as we enter the second half of 2020. What does remain certain, however, is the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce’s dedication to advocacy on behalf of its members – the business community.
Look for more opportunities in the coming months to hear from experts on the latest trends as the COVID-19 pandemic, and recovery, continue to evolve. Also look for innovative networking opportunities and other creative ways to get your business noticed. For more information, check www.DSCC.com.
This Week in Dover
by James DeChene
The bills that passed this week in Dover included an Equal Rights Amendment to Delaware’s constitution. The first leg of the amendment passed last year, in the 149th General Assembly, and the language contained in the amendment bars discrimination on the basis of sex. The House passed a measure allowing alcohol sales at the new 76’ers stadium, and the Senate passed a mini-bond bill providing more funds for capital improvements across the state. Each bill crosses the chamber to be heard next week.
Also of note this week was Governor Carney’s State of the State address. The speech is used to review policies and initiatives this administration has put in place, and also serves as a blueprint for what will be this session’s priorities.
The overview included a review of Chamber supported and implemented measures like the investment at the Port of Wilmington, passing the Angel Investor tax credit, the creation of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, modernizing the Coastal Zone Act, and establishing Opportunity Zones all across the state to bring new jobs in places like Seaford, Newark, Dover, Milford and Claymont.
New priorities outlined by Governor Carney included continuing to invest in broadband in Kent and Sussex counties, creating a new Transportation Infrastructure Investment fund to bolster economic development projects, and investing $60 million in education targeted a low income and English Language Learners and ensuring that all 3rd graders are proficient in reading at grade level.
More to come as Governor Carney will release his recommended budget next week.
This week in Dover
by James DeChene
This week was the opening of the 150th General Assembly. Members new and returning were sworn in on Tuesday, and in the Senate committee assignments were officially released.
Items of note included a bill heard in the House Economic Development committee that would allow the new stadium being built in Wilmington permission to sell alcohol. The bill was released from committee where it awaits a full House vote. The House passed HB1, the Equal Rights Amendment. The bill is the second leg of a constitutional amendment that now heads to the Senate to be heard in Senate Executive Committee next week.
Also announced this week, with absolute positive reception, was the Senate Pro Tempore David McBride saying the Senate had seen their last sunrise on July 1. Historically the House and Senate work through the night on July 30 and into the wee hours of July 1 (last year the session ended at 8:30 AM). Under the new rules if the Senate has not completed all its work, it will recess at 1 AM and will reconvene at 4 PM later that day on July 1. Lather, rinse, repeat until all work is completed. A very welcome change by the staff, lobbyists and general public forced to make a bleary eyed treks home in prior years.
Next week the Governor gives his State of the State address on Thursday.
I also want to share the US Chamber of Commerce State of American Business address from their president Tom Donohue, highlighting how businesses are faring, and what priorities the organization is focusing on. The speech is worth a listen: https://www.uschamber.com/