Delaware legislature passes casino relief bill, leaves other bills on the table [video]

 Lawmakers look on as Governor Markell signs bills early Tuesday morning. (Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

Lawmakers look on as Governor Markell signs bills early Tuesday morning. (Paul Parmelee/WHYY)

Following Delaware tradition, lawmakers worked into the early morning hours to pass dozens of bills before the end of the legislative session.

The one measure that took center stage Monday night was a bill that will provide $10 million in relief to the state’s three ailing casinos.

Lawmakers caucused for two hours to debate the bill and didn’t even bring it up until after 2 a.m. A few state leaders tried to add a last minute amendment that would have required the casinos to payback all of the money if they dismissed more than 3 percent of their workforce. However, the amendment was stricken. 

The new legislation will require the state to split the slot machine vendor fees with the casinos, which will cost the state about $9.9 million.

Sen. Brian Bushweller, D-Central Kent, the primary sponsor of the bill, said the legislation will provide short-term relief.

“It’s a Band-Aid in the sense that it’s not a permanent solution to the problem,” he said. “I still think there is an understanding that we need to come up with that permanent solution.”

The casinos have blamed their low revenues on out-of-state competition and high taxation.

DUI, marijuana and more

Lawmakers also passed legislation to crack down on DUI offenders. New legislation outlined in House Bill 212 will require all DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed in their car for at least four months. The device tests the driver’s blood alcohol level and will not allow the car to operate if the driver has been drinking.

While there were rumors that legislators might bring up a bill that would repeal the state’s death penalty, the legislation was not put on the agenda.

A bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana also did not make it to the floor for a vote.

Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, speaker of the House, said he wasn’t surprised the marijuana bill didn’t materialize this session. 

“The sponsor of the bill [Rep. Helene Keeley] wanted to float it out there, see what kind of support she had,” he said. “It was always intended to wait until January to try to work it.”

Markell proposals fail

Gov. Jack Markell signed the state’s operating budget, capital budget and Grant-in-Aid bills just after 3:30 a.m. Tuesday morning.

He noted that while his 10 cent gas tax increase proposal and Clean Water Initiative didn’t make it to bill form this session, he’s confident lawmakers will continue those discussions in January.

“I remain committed to addressing our transportation funding gap and what I believe to be the embarrassing condition of our waterways,” Markell said. “Both of those will create jobs and economic opportunity immediately and in the long-term and I want to thank the leadership of all four caucuses who are standing behind me for agreeing to continue the conversation about how we can fix our infrastructure.”

Rep. Danny Short, R- Seaford, said lawmakers believe they can come up with a better solution than the initial proposals.

“I think those are items that started that discussion but in the end of those discussions we were moving to things that were more reasonable than that approach so there’s a lot of things out there I think we can talk about,” he said. “We’ll start some place and we’ll work toward an agreement on that.”

Lawmakers will break until January.  This session officially ended with the adjournment.  Voters will go to the polls in November and those legislators who win election will convene the next 2 year session in 2015.

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