Delaware lawmakers say ‘hi’ then get back to work

    After the customary salutations, Delaware lawmakers got started on what figures to be a quarrelsome legislative session.

    Delaware’s General Assembly began its 2010 legislative session Tuesday in Dover.

    Like the first day of school, Legislative Hall was filled with handshakes, pats on the back and countless variations of “good to see you again.” Whether they were all sincere is debatable (as everything in Leg Hall is); remember these are politicians.

    The first day began with the House of Representatives welcoming its newest member. Ruth Briggs King won a special election in September to replace Joe Booth in the 37th District. Booth had resigned after winning a special election to fill the Senate seat left vacant by the passing of Senate President Pro Tem Thurman Adams.

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    King says Booth is a tough act to follow. She certainly has some big shoes to fill — literally — as Booth, a former University of Delaware football player, is a very large man.

    Many lawmakers agree the top priority once again will be handling the state’s continuing budget deficit. Other items that will surely generate some lively debate are education reform, economic growth, restructuring state government, the authorization of table games and the possible addition of two new casinos.

    The case of Dr. Earl Bradley, a Lewes pediatrician charged with raping several patients, is likely to spur a number of ideas from lawmakers on identifying sex offenders and keeping them from repeating their crimes.

    Along those lines, one bill introduced this week (House Bill # 306) would encourage the reporting of possible sexual abuse of a child by providing immunity from civil liability for making such a report. Another measure would increase the possible charges against teachers who have sex with students.

    Some other bills of note:

    Senate Bill # 191: Sen. Michael Katz hopes to ease last-minute budget drama by putting a tighter cap on how much the state can spend. His bill would cap spending at $2.85 billion or the May 2010 DEFAC estimated revenue projections for fiscal year 2011, whichever is lowest.

    Katz thinks setting the target early will give lawmakers more time to handle budget issues and hopefully eliminate some of the last-minute wrangling that’s accompanied the passage of recent state budgets.

    Senate Joint Resolution # 1: Also introduced by Katz, this measure would support Gov. Jack Markell’s administration’s efforts to review services provided by the state and to issue a report recommending changes that would lead to more efficient delivery of those services.

    Katz says he’d like to see those recommendations within 60 days of the bill’s passage.

    “I know that’s a very aggressive timetable,” he said. “But these times demand that we take aggressive action to control our spending while making sure people receive the services that they need.”

    Senate Bill #187: This first leg of a Constitutional Amendment relates to the death penalty. It would grant the Governor the power to commute a death sentence to a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of probation or parole. Currently this decision is made by the Board of Pardons.

    Another bill would give life to the idea of requiring fast food and chain restaurants in Delaware to post the calorie counts for their menu items for all to see.

    But perhaps the biggest headlines out of Leg Hall this week relate to the issue of gambling. First, we found out that a majority of the state gambling commission said no new casinos should be built in Delaware despite a study that found new venues could boost overall revenues and add jobs.

    And the week ended with House Speaker Robert Gilligan calling for a House special pre-file to enable legislation for table games. The bill will be assigned to the House Gaming & Parimutuels Committee, with a hearing scheduled for Wednesday at 3 p.m. The bill is expected to be voted on by the full House next week.

    We go through these issues as well on FIRST.  Watch Friday night at 5:30 and 10 on WHYY-TV.  Don’t forget to watch WHYY-TV at 7:30 p.m. Thursday Jan. 21st for Gov. Jack Markell’s state of the state address.  We’ll have reaction as well next week on FIRST.

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