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Delaware lawmakers set to wrap up session by early Sunday

Delaware's General Assembly is set to wrap up its legislative session in the wee hours of July 1. (WHYY file)

Delaware's General Assembly is set to wrap up its legislative session in the wee hours of July 1. (WHYY file)

In a rare move, Delaware’s General Assembly has already put the legislative season’s biggest issue – the general fund budget – to bed.

The $4.27 billion spending plan represents a 4 percent increase over the current year. After passage in the Senate and House, the budget was signed Thursday by Gov. John Carney.

Among other provisions, the budget devotes $63 million more to education; provides a 2 percent raise for teachers and a $1,000 pay increase for other state employees; and boosts starting salaries for prison guards to $43,000.

But there is still plenty to do on Saturday, the final day of fiscal year 2018 and the end of the spring General Assembly session.

The $816.3 million bond bill is up for consideration to pay for highway and other construction projects, such as schools.

There’s also the proposed grant-in-aid package for fire companies and nonprofit and community agencies. The state allocated $37.2 million this year, but the proposal for next year has not yet been made public.

The final day is one that routinely runs well past midnight. Last year, squabbles over spending cuts and proposed tax increases prevented the budget from being signed until July 3 – the latest date in recent history.

It’s been a practice for lawmakers to go past midnight and start a special session. That way, if they want to return to work before the next scheduled session in January, they don’t need the governor to call a special session as required by law.

Joseph Fulgham, spokesman for House Republicans, said that beyond those bills, a host of other measures could be considered that could stretch the session into the wee hours of Sunday.

Those include what Fulgham called “the gorilla in the room.” It’s a proposed constitutional amendment to create a budget stabilization fund that would amount to 10 percent of the state’s general fund revenue. That’s double the size of the state’s budget reserve account, which is currently kept at 5 percent.

The bill, which has bipartisan support, was expected to get a vote this week, but one of the sponsors pulled out and it has since languished. Fulgham said it’s on the “ready list’’ for a vote should legislative leaders seek one.

And there’s still plenty of legislation that could come up, such as a bill to ban high-capacity magazines for firearms, that could end up being debated for hours. The Legislature has already banned bump stocks but decided not to bring up one of Carney’s signature issues – banning assault-style weapons – for a vote.

Fulgham said anything can — and often does — happen on the final night.

“How late we will go is an open question;” he said. “The general feeling is that they probably won’t” go deep into the morning “but you never know what’s going to come up. There’s always a surprise.”

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