Delaware General Assembly down to the wire

Delaware’s new operating budget has passed both houses of the General Assembly a full 53 hours before the start of Fiscal Year 2013.

House:

The House of Representatives Thursday voted 36-5 Thursday in favor of a spending plan that amounts to just under $3.6-billion, and increases spending by 2.2%. The approval came a day after the State Senate approved the budget legislation 17-4.

“I think we covered all of the bases and I think it was a fair and equal budget,” said Joint Finance Committee co-chair, State Representative Dennis P. Williams. 

House Speaker Robert Gilligan (D.-Sherwood Park) noted that the budget increase was the smallest in a decade.

There was little discussion from House members on the budget, although Representative Ruth Briggs King (R.-Georgetown) said she could not support it due to concerns about “one-time” programs from last year againbeing a part of the state budget.

“I didn’t feel that we should use ‘one time money’ to increase the size of government or some of the programs that we did,” Briggs King said. 

Child abuse law  debated

The House session concluded with a lengthy discussion on a bill that would codify child abuse as a crime in Delaware.  Questions have surfaced since its introduction two weeks ago as to whether it would place limitations on the ability of parents to discipline their children.

A provision in the bill dealing with the infliction of “pain” upon a child apparently caused the confusion according to its sponsor, State Representative Rebecca Walker (D.-Middletown).  She said prosecutors were having trouble obtaining convictions in many cases of child abuse by trying to apply standards for crimes against adults.

A member of Attorney General Beau Biden’s staff sought to reassure lawmakers that parents would be allowed to use “reasonable and approriate” discpline with their children.

“I believe that people understand in their heart the difference between abuse and discipline,” Deputy Attorney General Patricia Dailey Lewis said.

The measure received final legislative approval with a 34-7 House vote.

Senate:

 Meanwhile, the countdown to an adjournment is on. The Delaware State Senate will wrap up its portion of the 146th Delaware General Assembly Saturday when it gavels into session at 6:00 p.m. for the traditional June 30th extravaganza. Votes await on the Bond Bill and Grants-in-Aid.

Felons may get voting rights restored

 The Senate Thursday gave final legislative approval to a bill that restores the voting rights of convicted felons immediately upon their release from prison. There has until now been a five-year ban under the state’s constitution.

 However, the bill is only halfway through the process of becoming law. A constitutional change requires passage in two consecutive General Assemblies. The next two-year session of the General Assembly begins in January, 2013.

 Senator Margaret Rose Henry (D.-Wilmington) sponsored the bill, which is named after the late State Representative Hazel Plant of Wilmington.

 The bill maintains a lifetime prohibition on voting for felons serving prison time for violent crimes.

Social media passwords bill modified

Also, a bill to prohibit higher education institutions from asking for or demanding the social media passwords of students or school applicants is being sent back to the House, following Senate passage. Senators approved an amendment to apply it specifically to post- secondary schools and institutions of higher learning. The bill would not apply to elementary or secondary schools.

The House sponsor, Representative Darryl Scott (D.-Dover) said earlier this month that the bill looks out for the privacy concerns of young people. The measure would prohibit a school from punishing a student or denying admission to an applicant based on their refusal to provide access to their social media accounts. There are exemptions if a password is needed due to threats to safety or as part of a police investigation.

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