Making Democracy Work

Advocacy Issues and Action Archives

Issues previously addressed by LWVDE and LWVUS

State Issues

Advocacy Corps Active in 2013-14 Legislative Session

The LWVDE Advocacy Corps monitored, supported, opposed and/or recommended amendments to a total of 141 bills during the very busy 147th Legislative session that ended in the early hours of July 1.

Key bills that were among our priorities included:

Voting and Elections. A huge disappointment was failure of the Senate to pass one of our highest priorities, HB 105 that would have allowed for same-day registration (on Election Day). We had learned how well this works in other states by participating in a conference call with Election Commissioners from five other states. We have spoken at two press conferences, testified in both House and Senate, sent an urgent Action Alert to members, many of whom contacted their Representatives and Senators. This concept will be reintroduced in 2015 and will, once again, be among our top priorities.

We were also disappointed by the defeat in the House of HB 20, the first leg of a constitutional amendment that would have eliminated requirements as to when a person may vote by absentee ballot, providing that the General Assembly would enact general laws providing the circumstances, rules and procedures for absentee voting.

Among those that did pass were:

  • HB 159 that prohibits a person from running as a candidate for more than one state, county or municipal office in the same election.
  • HB 205 that requires each school district to schedule an in-service day for the day of any primary election in which district schools will be used as polling place, which provides better security for kids and better access to rooms used for elections. (But HB 206 that would have required an in-service day on the day of school board elections died in the House Education Committee, reportedly due to objections from school officials.)
  • HB 208 that establishes a procedure to assure that driver's license addresses and voter registration addresses are the same.
  • HB 305 that consolidates existing County Election Departments and Boards of Elections into one State Elections Commission and Board with representation from each county and the city of Wilmington and makes several other amendments to election law.

Early in the session SCR 20 established a special task force to review Title 15 of the Delaware Code relating to voting and elections with an eye toward updating and reforming that law. Some of the bills mentioned were recommended by that Task Force. We were disappointed, however, that the Task Force failed to recommend, and the legislature failed to consider, changing Delaware's late primary (the second Tuesday of September) to August. This would have eased the ability to meet federal deadlines for military and overseas voting and would have meant that school districts would not need to have an in-service day since school would not be in session. A member of the Task Force told us that House members believed this would have given their opponents more time to campaign while incumbents were busy in the legislature from January to June 30.

Campaign Finance. Several bills were passed by the House and Senate, but two of the most important ones on our agenda died in committee, having been introduced by Rep. Deborah Hudson (R):

  • HB 290 would have required that candidates request donors' occupations and employers.
  • HB 394 would have banned donations from corporations, including limited liability companies, many of whom do not keep records of their "beneficial owners" + the real people who own these companies + making it difficult or impossible to ensure that contribution limits are enforced. Both of these proposals were among recommendations by former Chief Justice Norman Veasey, who was appointed as special prosecutor to investigate alleged campaign violations by state office holders.

Among bills the AC supported that did pass were:
  • HB 170 that establishes June 30 as an additional mandatory reporting period for political campaign committees and requires that the June 30 and December 31 reports be filed within 20 days;
  • HB 300 that protects whistleblowers;
  • HB 306 that establishes a fee for lobbyists who fail to file quarterly expense reports in a timely manner; (but HB 305 that would have required paid lobbyists to pay a fee to help fund the Public Integrity Commission failed to get through the House even though it came out of Committee on April 10).
  • SB 186 that requires any entity that contributes more than $100 to a political committee to disclose the name and address of a "responsible party"--someone who shares or exercises direction or control over the entity's activities. (But, as mentioned above, the bill requiring the names of beneficial owners died.)

Open Government. Some of the bills we supported that passed included:
  • HB 320 that requires drafts of minutes of infrequently meeting public bodies in the executive branch be made available in draft form within 10 days after the conclusion of the meeting.
  • HB 321 that requires the Attorney General to publish a manual and engage in educational efforts aimed at FOIA coordinators for all public bodies in the State.
  • HB 322 that clarifies that FOIA requests submitted via U.S. mail are valid, provided that the public records requested do not fall within the scope of the enumerated exceptions in the law.
  • HB 331 that removes the exemption from FOIA and thus fully applies FOIA to the University of Delaware and Delaware State University. Previously, FOIA applied only to their Boards of Trustees and documents relating to the expenditure of public funds.
  • HCR 55, a Republican proposal that would have provided for the state legislative website to include roll call votes by legislator starting in Jan 2017 was withdrawn after Speaker Schwartzkopf promised that this information would be included on a revised website that is being developed.

Public Safety. In spite of our relatively progressive legislature, no significant gun control bills were enacted in the entire session. HB 88 was one major bill that was designed to create procedures in Delaware for making sure firearms are not in the hands of dangerous people while protecting due process and not creating a barrier to care for those suffering from mental illness. Although it passed the House in 2013 on a vote of 40-1, the Senate defeated it 13-8. A re-vote that we expected to be considered in the Senate in January of 2014 was cancelled when not enough Senators could be convinced to change their vote.

Justice. The big disappointment here was failure of SB 19 to repeal the death penalty that passed the Senate but died in the House Judiciary Committee. The Coalition to Repeal, of which the League is a member, remains active and will try again next year. Health Care. Although we followed a couple of bills this past session, most of the health care "action" recently has not been legislative but has been focused on Delaware's State Innovation Plan, a public-private effort to transform the delivery and payment systems. It will be a long process and the state is currently pursuing a federal implementation grant.

Health. Two bills of significance were:

  • HB 346, a major update of Delaware's civil commitment statutes for mental illness that passed both House and Senate.
  • HB 400, which would have added a provision to the Health Care Decisions statute authorizing a Medical Order which is transportable, standardized and implements a patient's end of life care preferences. It would have adjusted the existing advanced care directives statute and the statute governing Emergency medical services. It passed the House but was tabled in the Senate on June 30. The coalition which has been working on the issue will likely introduce it again next session.

Manufactured Housing. Four bills passed the House and the Senate this session:
  • HB 233 was a "clean-up bill" for DEMHRA (DE Manufactured Housing Relocation Authority), which is charged with the oversight of the rent justification program.
  • HB 106 (Right of First Offer changes/revisions), as amended, updates law regarding a manufactured housing home owners associations' (HOA) right of first offer to purchase their community. It provides that a HOA's alternative purchase offer remain valid for 6 months, then can be refreshed every 6 months until the property is sold or 18 months has elapsed from the time the property was first listed for sale. Any HOA offer are void if the community owner decides not to sell the community. The bill also permits a HOA to amend its alternative offer at any time and allows a HOA to match a third party's lower price offer and all of the material terms and conditions of the lower offer. Finally, the bill provides that if the community owner accepts an offer from a third party that is greater than the alternative price offered by the HOA, the community owner is required to certify that fact in writing to both the HOA and the Consumer Protection Unit of th Attorney General's Office.
  • House Substitute 1 for HB 234 clarifies DEMHRA abilities to regulate their new responsibilities relating to how land rent market rate is determined and must be documented; allows DEMHRA to request a list of affected homeowners; sets procedures for scheduling a meeting with homeowners; and allows homeowners or a homeowners association on behalf of a homeowner to file for arbitration if no agreement is reached at the informal meeting.
  • SB 238 is a "consensus bill" developed by members of the homeowners groups and the landowners groups to require disclosure by land owners by providing prospective tenants with copies of the proposed rental agreement, the rules, standards and fee schedule of the community, the Manufactured Home Owners and Community Owners Act, and a summary of the Act written by the Attorney General when the prospective tenant obtains an application for tenancy in the community. The following bills did not go through in this session:
  • SB 259 would have set a $.50 assessment for deposit in the DEMHRA Trust Fund for each rented lot in a manufactured home community for a legal expenses fund for homeowners and will be paid only by homeowners. NOTE: This was introduced the last week of session and needs work and clarification in order to make it feasible. This will be done and will be presented next year.
  • HB 262 would have assisted the AG's office to determine what violations qualify as "Pattern and Practice" in homeowner complaints against the land owner. This bill was pulled by the AG's office.

State Issues

Tentative Advocacy priorities for 2014:
  • Voting and Elections
  • Campaign Finance Reform
  • Coastal Zone
  • Sea Level Rise
  • Open Government
  • Death penalty repeal

Other issues the Advocacy Corps is addressing include:
  • Manufactured housing
  • Charter Schools
  • Any gun legislation that may come up
  • Health care
  • Justice

Recent Actions

LWVDE Presents Statement on HB 167, the Ban-the-Box bill. HB 167 would prohibit public employers in the state from inquiring into or considering the criminal record, criminal history, or credit history or score of an applicant until after the applicant's first interview. The bill is intended to ensure that ex-offenders have a better opportunity to be considered for employment and thereby reduce recidivism. Certain types of agencies are exempted such as police agencies and courts or where such consideration is required by state or federal law. The bill passed the House on January 28 and was released for action from the Senate Committee on March 27.

President Charlotte King submitted a statement to the Senate Committee on Labor and Industrial Relations on March 26, although snow prevented her attendance at the Senate hearing. Read President King's statement in its entirety.

Gun/mental health bill, HB 88. LWVDE sent an Action Alert to all members in early January urging calls to their Senators to appeal to those who voted no on HB 88 to change their votes to yes. "This Act was designed to create procedures in Delaware for making sure firearms are not in the hands of dangerous people while protecting due process and not creating a barrier to care for those suffering from mental illness."

The bill overwhelmingly passed the House with strong bipartisan support, 40-1, last year. But even though both mental health advocates and the NRA found it acceptable, it was then DEFEATED in the Senate by a vote of 13 NO, 6 YES and 2 NOT VOTING on June 27, astonishing and dismaying supporters.

Although the bill was defeated, Senate rules allow it to be brought up for a repeat vote for a short time. The re-vote was expected to occur on January 14, the first day the legislature went back into session this year. Unfortunately, since it was clear the bill was once again doomed, it was not brought up for a vote, killing it for this year. A significantly less comprehensive bill has been introduced and will be reviewed by the Advocacy Corps in February.

Senators who voted NO in 2013: Republicans Bonini, Cloutier, Hocker, Lavelle, Lawson, Lopez, Pettyjohn, Simpson; Democrats: Bushweller, Ennis, Marshall, McBride, Venables; not voting: Democrats Poore, Townsend.

Minimum wage bill, SB 6. The Advocacy Corps, in January, recommended to the board and the board approved support of SB 6, providing for increases in the minimum wage. LWVDE joined numerous other organizations in approving a letter to the Governor and legislators: Workers should be paid enough to sustain a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. It is time to take a step towards that goal by raising Delaware's minimum wage. We, the undersigned, support Senate Bill 6. We urge you to make Senate Bill 6 law; we also urge the final version of the bill to include an indexing provision to help prevent our state minimum wage from eroding over time.

The League testified in a statement given on January 28, 2014.

Prison-based gerrymandering. LWVDE sent a letter to the Director, US Bureau of the Census, urging the Bureau to re-evaluate its current "residence rules" that require incarcerated people to be counted as residents of the prison location rather than residents of their home addresses. This practice leads to prison gerrymandering, meaning that areas with large prison populations are awarded greater representation even though these prisoners are not eligible to vote.

Delaware is one of four states with laws requiring the state to count prisoners at their home address in the next redistricting process in 2021. The letter suggests that a national solution would allow us to implement this requirement more efficiently.

The director of the Census Bureau responded to our letter, indicating the Bureau will be discussing with Congress and "stakeholders" the possibility of counting prisoners at their last home address in the 2021 census. They hope to get info on plans from the four states that have state laws requiring that this be done in their respective states. NY & MD counted prisoners at their home addresses in the 2011 redistricting, and CA and DE require that it be done in 2021. See the director's letter here.

Elections Task Force. Letty Diswood has been attending meetings of a special Task Force set up to comprehensively review Title 15 of the Delaware Code, which establishes law relating to voting and elections. It is expected to make recommendations to the General Assembly on how to improve this Title and to report its findings by March 30. Among topics being considered are bills that would allow eligible voters to register on election day, absentee voting, early voting, restoration of felon voting rights, and candidate background checks. In addition, the Task Force is looking at disaster recovery plans related to voting/election days.

Campaign Finance Reform

The Elections Task Force has now been assigned the additional responsibility for addressing recommendations from a 101-page report of Independent Counsel E. Norman Veasey on a two-year investigation of violations by Delaware campaign finance laws. A copy of that report is available at http://media.dsba.org/pdfs/Chief_Justice_Veasey_Report.pdf

Recommendations contained in the report include:

  • Require political committees to report contributors' occupation and employer.
  • Ban contributions from business entities, such as limited liability companies.
  • Require political committees to have all mandated information about a donor before a contribution is deposited.
  • Provide different measures to allow campaigns to return illegal contributions.
  • Create better ways and protections for whistle blowers to report campaign violations.
  • Strengthen the Public Integrity Commission counsel, now "severely hamstrung by inadequate resources." Justice Veasey suggested additional reforms that might be considered but were not included in the published report:
  • Provide for civil penalties in addition to criminal penalties for violations of campaign finance laws (less burden of proof than in criminal cases.
  • Increase the length of time in statute of limitations.
  • Consider a DC law that bans bundling by registered lobbyists.
  • Ban (all) gifts.
  • Consider public financing.

The next meeting of the Elections Task Force is scheduled for February 15 at 6 pm in Legislative Hall.

LWVDE will press for reform based on the position of the LWVUS: The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that the methods of financing political campaigns should ensure the public's right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office and allow maximum citizen participation in the political process.

This position is applicable to all federal campaigns for public office -- presidential and congressional, primaries as well as general elections. It also may be applied to state and local campaigns.

The League's campaign finance reform strategy has two tracks: 1) achieve incremental reforms where possible in the short term, and 2) build support for public financing as the best long-term solution.

National Issues

Advocacy, Projects, and Studies (Our Work). The LWVUS currently is involved in the following areas, among others:

Tentative Advocacy priorities for 2014:  Voting and Elections  Campaign Finance Reform  Coastal Zone  Sea Level Rise  Open Government  Death penalty repeal Other issues the Advocacy Corps is addressing include:  Manufactured housing  Charter Schools  Any gun legislation that may come up  Health care  Justice Recent Actions Gun/mental health bill. LWVDE sent an Action Alert to all members in early January urging calls to their Senators to appeal to those who voted no on HB 88 to change their votes to yes. "This Act was designed to create procedures in Delaware for making sure firearms are not in the hands of dangerous people while protecting due process and not creating a barrier to care for those suffering from mental illness." The bill overwhelmingly passed the House with strong bipartisan support, 40-1, last year. But even though both mental health advocates and the NRA found it acceptable, it was then DEFEATED in the Senate by a vote of 13 NO, 6 Yes and 2 Not Voting on June 27, astonishing and dismaying supporters. Although the bill was defeated, Senate rules allow it to be brought up for a repeat vote for a short time. The re-vote was expected to occur on January 14, the first day the legislature went back into session this year. Unfortunately, since it was clear the bill was once again doomed, it was not brought up for a vote. Senators who voted no in 2013: Republicans Bonini, Cloutier, Hocker, Lavelle, Lawson, Lopez, Pettyjohn, Simpson; Democrats: Bushweller, Ennis, Marshall, McBride, Venables; not voting: Democrats Poore, Townsend. Minimum Wage bill. The Advocacy Corps, in January, recommended to the board and the board approved support of SB 6, providing for increases in the minimum wage. LWVDE joined numerous other organizations in approving a letter to the Governor and legislators: Workers should be paid enough to sustain a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. It is time to take a step towards that goal by raising Delaware's minimum wage. We, the undersigned, support Senate Bill 6. We urge you to make Senate Bill 6 law; we also urge the final version of the bill to include an indexing provision to help prevent our state minimum wage from eroding over time. The League's testimony is here. Prison-based gerrymandering. LWVDE has sent a letter to the Director of the U.S. Bureau of the Census urging the Bureau to re-evaluate its current "residence rules" that require incarcerated people to be counted as residents of the prison location rather than residents of their home addresses. This practice leads to prison gerrymandering, meaning that areas with large prison populations are awarded greater representation even though these prisoners are not eligible to vote. Delaware is one of four states with laws requiring the state to count prisoners at their home address in the next redistricting process in 2021. The letter suggests that a national solution would allow us to implement this requirement more efficiently. A copy of the letter is here. Elections Task Force. Letty Diswood has been attending meetings of a special Task force set up to comprehensively review Title 15 of the Delaware Code that establishes law relating to voting and elections. It is expected to make recommendations to the General Assembly on how to improve this Title and to report its findings by March 30. Among topics being considered are bills that would allow eligible voters to register on election day, absentee voting, early voting, restoration of felon voting rights, and candidate background checks. In addition, the Task Force is looking at disaster recovery plans related to voting/election days. The Task Force has now been assigned responsibility for addressing recommendations from a 101-page report of Independent Counsel E. Norman Veasey on a two-year investigation of violations by Delaware campaign finance laws. A copy of that report is available at http://www.delawareonline.com/interactive/article/20131229/NEWS02/131228001/Document-Read-Veasey-report. Recommendations contained in the report include:

  • Require political committees to report contributors' occupation and employer.
  • Ban contributions from business entities, such as limited liability companies.
  • Require political committees to have all mandated information about a donor before a contribution is deposited.
  • Provide different measures to allow campaigns to return illegal contributions.
  • Create better ways and protections for whistle blowers to report campaign violations.
  • Strengthen the Public Integrity Commission counsel, now "severely hamstrung by inadequate resources." The next meeting of the Elections Task Force is scheduled for February 15 at 6 pm in Legislative Hall.