Markell plans to address sea-level rise, teacher pay

Governor issues state of the state address
January 18, 2013

Officials are working to address sea-level rise, school safety and job creation for Delaware.  Gov. Jack Markell delivered his state of the state address, surrounded by legislators and other elected officials, Jan. 17, at Legislative Hall in Dover.

In the speech, “This is the world we now live in,” Markell asked the General Assembly to help him pass legislation to fund infrastructure projects to address flooding, enact legislation to ban certain firearms and raise the pay for teachers.

The governor said the state must find ways to fund essential infrastructure projects that address flooding and sea-level rise. “Key parts of our tourism and our agriculture and our manufacturing industries are yards from the bay and other waterways,” Markell said. “We need to have a frank conversation about how to prioritize and finance these projects, so that we protect what we can and so we can make realistic choices about what we cannot.”

A working group is analyzing the needs of the state, Markell said, and will issue infrastructure recommendations.

Public safety initiatives were also highlighted in the speech.  Markell cited the shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as a reason to improve school safety and enact gun control legislation.

Markell introduced proposals for gun control Jan. 14, including a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The governor also mentioned proposals to improve mental healthcare.  “We’ve got the ability to provide some mental health services in Delaware high schools, and we have family crisis therapists in some elementary schools, but we have almost no mental health resources in our middle schools,” he said.

Markell recommended a 10-fold increase in the number of mental health professionals in middle schools.  He said telemedicine could also provide long-distance mental health services to those in need without patients having to travel out-of-state or wait months for an appointment.  “We don’t have enough mental health providers right now,” he said.

The General Assembly passed the Omnibus School Safety Act in 2012, which requires up-to-date school safety plans for every Delaware public school within 5 years.

Markell asked that agencies speed-up the process and complete requirements of the act within two years.

Markell also hailed educators.  “This new world begins in Delaware’s schools,” he said.  Markell said the state’s teachers are to thank for helping students meet higher education standards.

He proposed ways Delaware can continue to attract excellent teachers, including strengthening admission requirements for teaching programs at state universities and implementing exit assessments for teachers, similar to the bar exam for lawyers.

Markell also said Delaware must incentivize teachers to remain in the state. All teachers in the state should receive higher pay, Markell said.

Delaware should review its pay structure in the Department of Education to raise starting-teacher pay and reward teachers for their leadership in the field, he said.

Markell also discussed ways to nurture business development and growth in the state.  He cited Start It Up Delaware, a public-private partnership established to serve as a hub for entrepreneurs across the state.

Markell also said a new ILC Dover plant, scheduled to open near Seaford, will create 150 new jobs.

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Colin O’Mara is working with energy companies to reduce the cost of energy for businesses in the state, Markell said.  “Too many in Delaware are paying too much for energy because they are too far from a pipeline to bring them affordable natural gas,” he said.

Markell proposed expanding the state’s natural gas infrastructure using energy savings from fuel switching.

The governor also said he would push for legislation to encourage utilities to prioritize efficient energy when its cheaper than electricity from the grid.

Improving the quality of life through initiatives to expand trails and protect natural resources will also attract talented workers and successful companies to the state, Markell said.

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