Del. Lawmakers Prepare Bills For Final Vote As Session Nears End - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Del. Lawmakers Prepare Bills For Final Vote As Session Nears End

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DOVER, Del.- As the clock ticks closer and closer to midnight on Thursday, Delaware lawmakers are scrambling to get their bills ready to go this week. As often is the case, the bills getting the most attention relate to money.

After a contentious budget battle in 2015, lawmakers told WBOC that they are hopeful this year will be far less hostile, especially since a $4.1 billion budget has already been introduced, putting them ahead of where they were last year. While the operating budget has been introduced, big question marks still remain, surrounding both the Bond Bill and the Grant-In-Aid Bill.

The Bond Bill decides which capital improvement projects will be funded, including construction and infrastructure projects in state buildings. Meanwhile, the Grant-in-Aid bill decides what funding will go to charities and non-profits. Sen. Gerald Hocker, a Republican from Millville, said that there is a lot of concern since funding for these two bills are down approximately $32 million, compared to what was expected in January. 

"I know we have a lot more requests for expenditures than we do revenue," he said. "And there's going to be a lot of unhappy people. But we have to do the best we can with what we have to work with." 

Hocker, who serves on the Joint Committee on Capital Improvement (Bond Committee), said that this potential shortage put many state facilities at risk of being denied funding, including the Family Courts of Sussex and Kent counties, and schools like Delaware Tech. 

"We do not have the money that we need for the infrastructure that the state has..." he said. "Capital expenditures are the ones that get left out."

Another bill likely to stir up debate in the last week of session is the Wilmington Education Improvement Commission (WEIC) Bill. This plan, aiming to alleviate Wilmington's education woes through redistricting and increased poverty funding, has been met with opposition by many lawmakers concerned with the price tag, which is estimated to be at least $6 million. 

Rep. Ruth Briggs King, a Republican from Georgetown, said she was concerned not only about the cost, but also the fact that this would help Northern Delaware, but not Southern Delaware, which has needs as well. 

"We have poverty issues in Sussex County ever as great as in New Castle County," she said. "And we have English Language Learners - a probably much greater challenge in Sussex than they do in Wilmington."

The proposed operating Budget was set at nearly $4.1 billion, an amount that's a little more than $176 million more than this past year's budget. Some Republican lawmakers like Hocker said they will be voting against the budget due to these increases. 

Other Possibly Controversial Bills

Senate Bill 161: This bill would mandate that all Delaware schools start after Labor Day, so as to generate more summer business. This bill has met some opposition from school districts, who want autonomy in scheduling. This bill is currently awaiting a House Committee vote. 

House Bill 287: This bill would no longer allow municipal governments to restrict where sex offenders can live. The bill sponsor proposed this bill in an effort to get these sex offenders off the street, where rehabilitation is more difficult. This bill is still awaiting a vote in the Delaware House. 

House Bill 424: The Wilmington Education Improvement Commission passed the house on June 22, and has now been assigned to a Senate Committee, where it awaits a vote.

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