Delaware budget bills pass, Biden’s bail bill does not

Delaware legislators can knock a few more tasks off Sunday’s “to-do” list.  

State lawmakers were hard at work Thursday, getting through as much legislation as possible before the final day of session on June 30. 

In the Senate:

Delaware state senators made a surprising vote to strike down a bill supported by Attorney General Beau Biden that would “modernize bail provisions” by allowing judges to deny bail for up to 90 days for Class A and Class B violent felony offences.

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Under current state law, “the only circumstance in which one may be detained without bail is when he or she is charged with capital murder.”

The Senate did clear the FY 2014 operating budget without many questions or concerns.

Sen. Harris McDowell, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, called the budget “responsible” and said he’s proud of the $3.7 billion budget, which grew by approximate 3.6 percent of FY 2013.

“We, I believe, have a pretty good budget this year that we can all be proud of. It is our sixth consecutive relatively tight budget that we’ve had to produce,” said McDowell. “And, this year, because of the accumulating fact of producing a tight budget, it was a little harder, a little less maneuvering room. Be that as it may, the governor gave us an excellent vehicle with which to work in January. And, then, the senate-house finance committee got to work on behalf of the legislature and I think produced a very good document but stayed pretty frugal and responsible.”

The bulk of the growth, approximately $35 million, went to increased Medicaid costs.

McDowell pointed out other highlights such as $8 million in employee pension contribution and $15 million for retiree health.

He also noted $4 million that was allocated to provide psychological interventionists to every middle school in the state as well as $8.5 million to step increases for teachers and a paraprofessional pay plan at $1.5 million.

While Sen. Colin Bonini applauded the JFC for their work, he listed his annual caution points to the senate, noting that Delaware is one of the most expensive state governments in the country per capita and in the last several years the state has doubled spending, without doubling state services.

The budget bill cleared the Senate 17-4 and now heads to Governor Jack Markell’s desk for his signature.

The House:

State representatives also cleared a budget hurtle today, passing the FY 2014 bond bill unanimously.

“This bill invests in our state infrastructure. It maintains our state’s assets, improves the quality of life for our citizens and puts people to work,” said Rep. Quinn Johnson, sponsor of the bill and co-chair of the House Capital Infrastructure Committee.

Some of the projects outlined in the $477 million budget include new school construction, renovation projects and improvements to higher education institutions. The bill also makes investments in state parks, walking trails, libraries and waterways.

It also supports municipalities, volunteer fire departments and the National Guard.

Johnson also noted that $196 million of the capital budget is going to transportation projects throughout the state.

Rep. Tim Dukes took the floor to express his opposition to controversial funds appropriated to the state’s struggling casinos. “I believe this is bad government to put in $8 million in the bond bill,” he noted.  

The House also passed a series of other bills including Senate Bill 27 which allows the Department of Education to offer competitive two-year start-up grants to public schools to develop accelerated academic programs and Senate Bill 93 which creates a process for Kent County to establish a storm water maintenance district.

The $44.7 million grant in aid bill cleared the Joint Finance Committee Wednesday but has yet to hit either floor for a vote and will likely be on the June 30 agenda. 

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