Hope springs eternal in the human breast

February 6, 2018

"No man's life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session."
- Gideon J. Tucker (1826-99)

If you haven't been paying attention, you might not know that your state legislature, called the General Assembly here in Delaware, is far more likely to affect life as you know it than the U.S. Congress.

Delaware's General Assembly is back in session for its annual six-month run. While it is true that our legislature is usually fairly responsible, it also is very true that Delaware has become a strongly one-party state. The Democrats rule at all levels.

Further, this year, since Gov. John Carney is not proposing to raise any taxes, the Republican majority is in a less-influential position since no Republican votes will be needed to pass the budget. That budget is blessed, for the first time in several years, with a surplus rather than the $400 million hole it faced a year ago.

There are some other issues, though, things that likely will engender debate before the last week in June when all eyes are on spending. Among them:

• Marijuana. A bill to legalize the weed is before the General Assembly. We already have legal medical marijuana in Delaware. This will would legalize - and tax - possession, distribution and sale for nearly any reason. If approved, Delaware would join 11 other states, led by Colorado, with such legalization.

Colorado's experience depends on your point of view. That state's new senator, Cory Gardner, a Republican, railed against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions when Sessions announced a couple weeks ago that federal prosecutors were free to prosecute marijuana dealers and producers, a reversal of Obama administration policies. Colorado, it seems, likes the tax revenue.

However, others assert that legal marijuana has led to higher crime and dangerous roads. Unlike alcohol, there is no roadside test (like a breathalyzer) for marijuana and driving while high.

• Motorcycle and bicycle helmets. Helmets should be required for all motorcycle riders and all bicyclists who are riding on county, state or federal highways. Note I exempt local streets in one's own neighborhood. Bikers may revel in letting the wind blow through their hair, but the fact is that there is a public interest in helmets and helmet laws, and anyone who has ever witnessed a motorcycle accident knows what it is.

The state interest here is clear. By definition, most bikers are neither wealthy nor are they heavily insured. If you've witnessed a biking accident, you know that if a motorcycle hits something, the biker generally is propelled off the bike headfirst. Head, skull and brain injuries ensue. Terrible concussions and brain hemorrhaging are likely. The chances of the biker sustaining basket-case injuries are very real.

So who pays for this basket? You guessed it: we taxpayers. Keeping some motorcycle-addled, injured biker in the nursing home for 50 years falls to Medicaid, which is paid by the state and federal governments. That's us, taxpayers. End of case.

• Right except to pass. Motorists would be required to drive in the right lane(s) of a four- or more-lane highway unless preparing to pass or actually passing the vehicle ahead of them.

• Headlights. If your windshield wipers are turning, you are required to have your headlights on. You would be surprised how many motorists don't even do this during major rainstorms. They are nearly invisible amidst the road spray.

• Death penalty. The Delaware Supreme Court ruled last year that our state's death penalty was unconstitutional. It had no choice, really. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled months earlier that judges cannot impose the death penalty in capital cases unless the jury recommends it. Delaware's law gave judges some discretion.

Delaware has been debating our death-penalty law for several years now. Some want to repeal it altogether. Others want to make it easier to administer. The General Assembly should get off the pot and decide one way or another.

If it's re-enacted, the General Assembly should give the Department of Correction or the governor several options. Today, we have lethal injection as the only choice. But obtaining the three drugs required is increasingly difficult as drug manufacturers object to it being used for executions, and doctors refuse to participate based on medical ethics.

Until a few years ago, hanging was an option. That was phased out. It should be restored.

• Budget. It probably is a forlorn hope, but the General Assembly really should cut spending. More important, they should repeal some of the tax increases approved in recent years.

But then, hope springs eternal in the human breast.

Reid Beveridge has covered politics in Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Delaware and Washington, D.C. He is now retired at Broadkill Beach.



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