Legislative Wrap-Up

May 20, 2014
Legislation on weight of poultry trucks passes

A bill sponsored by Sen. Rob­ert Venables Sr., D-Laurel, that increases the weight limit for live-haul poultry trucks operat­ing in Delaware was signed into law by the governor May 8.

Senate Bill 160 increases the weight limit for the trucks op­erating within 100 miles of the plant to 92,700 pounds. In addi­tion, the bill would provide for a weight variance of 3 percent to account for variations in bird weight. Live-haul poultry trucks are granted the increased weight limit and associated variance provided that these trucks are in compliance with several condi­tions aimed at ensuring public safety.

Bill makes tobacco and products contraband

A bill sponsored by Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, that adds to­bacco and nicotine products as contraband in correctional fa­cilities passed through the Senate Tuesday, April 8.

Senate Bill 174 was introduced and assigned to the Senate’s Adult and Juvenile Corrections Committee March 21. The bill passed the Senate by a 12-9 vote April 8 and then assigned to the House Correction Committee April 9.

Bill would ban commissions on escheat collections

Senate Republicans have an­nounced plans to introduce legislation intended to disallow commission-based contracting for escheat. Senate Republican Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, and Senate Republican Whip Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley, will be sponsoring the legislation.

Escheat is the legal process by which abandoned or unclaimed property is transferred to the state. In Delaware, unclaimed property includes dormant checking and savings accounts, uncashed money orders or cashier’s checks, unclaimed in­surance benefits, contents of safe deposit boxes, unused gift cards, dividends, stocks, bonds, and more. Property that remains un­claimed or dormant for a certain number of years is transferred to the state.

Once property is escheated, the value of the property reverts to the state’s General Fund.

According to information dis­tributed by the State Senate’s Republican Caucus, in fiscal year 2013, the value of that prop­erty transferred to the state was $566.5 million, the third-largest source of revenue for the state. In the same year, the state paid Kelmar Associates, a firm that provides government auditing services, $53.4 million, said the online pamphlet.

The bill would forbid a per­son or business conducting an audit on escheat from receiving a percentage of the property re­covered by the state.

The measure would also pro­hibit state employees who work in the escheat office from work­ing for a private audit firm for a period of two years after leaving state service. In addition, the legislation would require the contract for escheat auditing ser­vices be re-bid every three years.

Bills seek to expand ambulance services

A package of four bills in­troduced April 30 would give Delaware’s volunteer ambulance companies access to new and expanded sources of funding.

The four bills, sponsored by Reps. Bill Carson, D-Smyrna, and Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, in the House and Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna, in the Senate, come directly from a report issued in February by the Ambulance and EMS Task Force. The group was charged with finding new ways to reimburse volunteer ambu­lance companies for the services they provide.

According to the task force’s report, it costs Delaware’s 54 volunteer ambulance companies $35.7 million a year to provide their services. The total annual income of the state’s volunteer ambulance companies is ap­proximately $2.72 million.

House Bill 317 would increase the share of the state’s gross in­surance premium fee collections contributed to the ambulance fund. Currently, Delaware am­bulance companies receive about $2.3 million annually from the insurance premium fee - a figure projected to rise by approxi­mately $4.6 million if HB 317 is enacted. The bill was voted out of the House Public Safety & Homeland Security Committee and then voted out of the House Appropriations Committee May 14.

House Bill 315 would create a $10 assessment on motor vehicle violations, earmarked specifical­ly to support ambulance services. This measure is expected to raise approximately $1.25 million per year. This bill was reported out of committee May 7.

The third piece of legislation, House Bill 316, was tabled in committee April 30. The bill would establish a baseline level of support from county govern­ments to ambulance companies in their jurisdictions, and give counties broad flexibility to meet that goal.

Delaware’s three counties cur­rently contribute a total of $2.6 million per year to ambulance companies. House Bill 316 would increase that figure by $2.7 mil­lion.

The final bill, Senate Bill 207, addresses the problem of chronic underpayment by health insur­ers for the services of volunteer ambulance companies. This bill would require insurance compa­nies to cover, at a minimum, the full cost incurred by an ambu­lance company for an ambulance run and basic life support servic­es. This bill was reported out of the House Insurance Committee May 8.

Bill makes minors tanning illegal

A bill has been introduced thats bans minors from using tanning devices in tanning fa­cilities. It also mandates warning signs and statements in tanning facilities.

Senate Bill 94, sponsored by Sen. Catherine Cloutier, R-Heatherbrooke, was voted out of the Senate’s Health & Social Services Committee April 30 and then passed by the Senate May 13. It was assigned to the House Health & Human Development Committee May 14.

If made law, an owner who vio­lates the law will be fined $250 for the first offense, $500 for the second offense and $1,000 for the third and all subsequent offenses. This act would take effect Jan. 1, 2015.

Bill nixes consideration of criminal record

A bill introduced last year that prohibits a public employer from inquiring into or consider­ing the criminal record, criminal history or credit history or score of an applicant before it makes a conditional offer to the applicant, was signed into law May 8.

House Bill 167, sponsored by Rep. James. Johnson, D-Wilm­ington, permits inquiry and consideration of criminal back­ground after the conditional offer has been made.

The bill specifies that once a background check is conducted, an employer shall only consider felonies for 10 years from the completion of sentence, and mis­demeanors for five years from the completion of sentence.

Further, employers are required to consider several enu­merated factors when deciding whether to revoke a conditional offer based on the results of a background check.

Police forces, the Department of Correction and other positions with a statutory mandate for background checks are excluded from these provisions.

The bill also requires con­tractors with state agencies to employ similar policies where not in conflict with other state or federal requirements.

Bill increases cell phone fine while driving

A bill that raises the first of­fense fine for using a handheld cell phone, or other electronic device while driving from $50 to $75 has been reported out of committee. House Bill 298, spon­sored by Rep. Joseph E. Miro, was reported from the Public Safety & Homeland Security Commit­tee April 30. For each subsequent offense the person shall be sub­ject to a civil penalty between $100 and $200.

Bill deters intimidating witnesses

The House unanimously passed legislation May 1 that increases penalties for criminals who attempt to intimidate wit­nesses.

Senate Bill 177, sponsored by Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East, and Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, passed the Senate last month and now goes to Gov. Jack Markell’s desk.

The legislation elevates wit­ness intimidation crimes to a higher felony level, so criminals who try to scare witnesses out of testifying are more likely to face

a sentence that involves prison time. Specifically, this bill seeks to deter criminals and their associates from harassing and in­timidating victims and witnesses by increasing the punishment imposed upon those convicted of the existing crimes of Act of Intimidation and Aggravated Act of Intimidation.

Legislation adds e-cigarettes to list

A bill that defines e-cigarettes as a tobacco substitute and prohibits the selling of those substitutes to minors awaits the governor’s signature after clear­ing the House April 10 and then the Senate May 13. House Bill 241, sponsored by House Minor­ity Whip Rep. Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, is intended to treat a tobacco substitute the same as a tobacco product under Chapter 5, Title 11 of Delaware code. The bill also prohibits minors from purchasing or receiving the to­bacco substitutes.