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House candidate speaks out on legislative session

July 9, 2019

The 2019 Delaware legislative session has ended with some encouraging progress, some unfortunate disappointments, and some Republican grandstanding.

We made notable headway on criminal justice reform. In mid-March, Delaware Democratic elected officials announced a strong criminal justice reform package. Eleven of the 19 bills passed during this session, including: sentencing reform, reduced penalties for non-violent crimes, making it easier for individuals with criminal records to find employment, and an expansion of expungeable offenses. In other good news, the death penalty stays out of Delaware for now. 

We must soon address another vital criminal justice reform issue - the abolishment of solitary confinement, an ineffective and inhumane practice condemned by the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and other modern countries.

The torturous practice makes inmates more likely to be physically or sexually assaulted by correctional officers, and renders correctional officers’ working conditions less safe.

As someone who worked in education for six years and Medicaid for 13 years, these two issues are close to my heart. I was thrilled to see the long-overdue granting of dental benefits to adult Medicaid recipients. Regarding education, a crucial bill passed allowing the Delaware Board of Education to alter the boundaries of school districts based upon recommendations from the new Redding Consortium for Educational Equity.

Thankfully, a bill sponsored by the chairman of the House Education Committee, 27th District Rep. Earl Jaques, that would have allowed school boards to annually and endlessly raise citizens’ property taxes by 2 percent, did not make it out of his committee. The proposal is especially unfair to Delawareans in less-affluent areas (typically with struggling schools), opening the door for boundless tax increases for those who can least afford them. 

Regrettably, Rep. Jaques, the State Auditor’s Office, and special interests conspired so that a sensible bill with widespread bipartisan support did not leave the House Education Committee. It would have required the State Auditor’s Office to investigate charter schools when evidence exists of fiscal mismanagement or abuse, or the violation of state law.

Such audits could be requested by various elected officials. We need this policy, given Delaware charter schools’ lamentable history of fiscal abuse and mismanagement that violates the faith placed in them by taxpayers, parents, and students.

In a disappointing turn, most common-sense gun legislation failed at the hands of Democratic Senate leadership, prompting the Delaware Democratic Party to issue a statement reminding Democratic legislators of our state party platform. A large majority of Delawareans favors common sense gun control. Democrats and all Delawareans deserve leadership in Dover that does not bow to the pressures of special interests and powerful individual elected officials, and focuses instead on real solutions for real problems. 

Several important initiatives - about which I wrote in December 2018 - once again got kicked down the road.

Legislators failed to repeal the disastrous Youth & Training Wage or push Delaware’s minimum wage closer to a living wage. Personal income tax reform, forcing wealthier Delawareans to pay their fair share and allowing a tax cut for middle-class Delawareans, was not instituted.

Although a majority of Delawareans and a vast majority of Democrats support cannabis legalization and end-of-life options, those initiatives failed. The session saw no talk of a statewide property reassessment, although property values in the counties of New Castle, Kent, and Sussex were last reassessed in 1983, 1977 and 1974, respectively.

Predictably, right-wing Republican legislators pandered to their base for cheap political points. In January, Rep. Richard Collins and Sen. Bryant Richardson sponsored two unsuccessful bills meant to erode Delaware women’s right to choose. HB 53, requiring women to view ultrasound results before terminating a pregnancy, was especially repugnant legislation designed to embarrass and shame women seeking abortion services.

Recently, Republican Sen. Dave Lawson introduced unnecessary legislation allegedly attempting to prevent “foreign laws“ from being used as a defense in local courts. He topped the gross act of introducing this legislation with the even grosser assertion that Muslim Americans are trying to “subvert our Constitution.”

Legislators made some progress for Delawareans this year, and I applaud the Democratic (and a few Republican) legislators who fought tenaciously for it. But overall, the recent News Journal headline, “Lawmakers finish without controversy, leave bills for next year,” largely sums up the 2019 legislative session.

I hope that in 2020, Delaware legislators will be less fearful of rocking the boat and more courageous in implementing the change Delawareans desire and deserve.

Eric Morrison
27th District Democratic candidate
Delaware House of Representatives

 

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