What the public wants from the General Assembly
Gun control, physician-assisted suicide, a $15 minimum wage and legal weed should be a priority for lawmakers during the next six months. Delaware’s legislative session runs two years, and any bills that didn’t pass in 2019 roll over in 2020.
That’s according to a survey conducted by Delaware Online/The News Journal, where we asked readers which bills lawmakers should work on in 2020. We received 1,917 online votes, 346 snail mail submissions and a handful of emails.
We offered eight policy issues that lawmakers failed to pass in 2019, but still have a chance to work on now that they are back in session. We also let readers write in any other issues that weren’t mentioned.
The choices were:
- stricter gun laws;
- legal marijuana;
- easier access to medical marijuana;
- higher minimum wage;
- reinstating the death penalty;
- allowing medically assisted suicide;
- letting school boards raise taxes without voter approval.
Here are the results, ranked from most to least popular:
1. Gun safety
Readers were specifically asked to weigh in on three bills that Democrats failed to pass last year: a cap on magazines at 15 rounds of ammo; a ban to certain semi-automatic weapons; and a permit and training course requirement to buy and own a gun.
SENATE BILL 70 by Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark: 581 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Bans magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of bullets
SENATE SUBSTITUTE 1 FOR SENATE BILL 68 by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark: 578 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Bans certain long guns and pistols that are deemed “assault weapons”
SENATE BILL 82 by Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Brandywine West: 556 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Requires a permit and training course to buy and own a gun
While our readers seem to favor the bills, Senate leadership last year took the side of the 20,500-person Facebook group Delaware Gun Rights, which mobilized at Legislative Hall multiple times to quash the legislation.
These three bills — or some version of them — could return this year. All three sponsors look ready to try again.
Sturgeon announced in August that she plans to revise and revisit her bill in light of mass shootings across the U.S. in the past six months. Sokola and Townsend are gearing up for round two.
“I haven’t given up on the legislation and will continue to work to find the necessary support,” Sokola said about his magazine bill.
Townsend said he hopes enough lawmakers were swayed by the recent gun violence forum in order to “advance” his ban to certain semi-automatic weapons this year.
2. $15 minimum wage
SENATE BILL 105 by Sen. Darius Brown, D-Wilmington: 479 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Gradually increases Delaware’s minimum wage from $9.25 per hour to $15 per hour by 2024
This bill hasn’t made it to a floor vote, but the sponsor is fighting for passage again in 2020. It’s unclear how much support he’ll have among fellow lawmakers and the governor, and the bill could get amended if it moves forward at all.
“No one with a job should be sentenced to a life of poverty,” Brown said in a statement, when alerted about the survey results.
3. Medically assisted suicide
HOUSE BILL 140 by Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark: 459 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Allows terminally ill adults to end their own lives
This isn’t the first time that Baumbach has tried to pass such a bill, and the lawmaker says he hasn’t given up on trying to pass it in 2020. The latest version has yet to make it out of committee.
“We were not able to get the ... support we needed in 2019,” Baumbach said, adding that he thinks he needs to convince more freshman House members to “get comfortable” with the proposal. “It takes quite a bit of time to understand it.”
4. Legal weed
HOUSE BILL 110 by Rep. Ed Osienski, D-Newark: 452 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Legalizes recreational marijuana
Osienski, who needs three-fifths of his Statehouse’s approval to pass the bill, said he’s a few votes short in the House. He said he hasn’t had any confirmation from Republicans that they’ll vote yes, and there’s still some House Democrats who are “hard” noes.
The sponsor said he’s open to amendments to make the bill more palatable to his nay-saying colleagues but has yet to get any constructive criticism.
This bill was one of the most opposed in our survey, getting around 40 written-in “no” votes.
5. Easier access to medical marijuana
SENATE BILL 170 by Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark: 447 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Allows adults to treat anxiety with medical marijuana
HOUSE BILL 243 by Rep. Michael Smith, R-Pike Creek Valley: 378 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Lets medical marijuana users grow their own cannabis
While the anxiety treatment bill was a little less popular than recreational pot among our survey participants, the former policy has been much more palatable among lawmakers.
It passed the Senate last year with two votes short of unanimous support and is now waiting on a House vote before the governor can sign it into law. Townsend expects a floor vote in the coming weeks.
The House bill to let you grow your own medical marijuana at home has yet to make it to a floor vote. The sponsor plans to push it again in 2020. Rep. Osienski, who is co-sponsoring the proposal, said he thinks it has a chance in the House.
It’s not clear whether the governor, who supports Delaware’s medical marijuana program, would sign either one.
6. Reinstating the death penalty
HOUSE BILL 165 by Rep. Steve Smyk, R-Milton: 319 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Reinstates the death penalty in Delaware
Smyk said he plans to speak to supporters of the bill and Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, who chairs the committee where the bill is assigned, “to collectively decide when HB 165 should be considered.”
7. Abortion restrictions
These had some of the most opposition among our survey participants, with more than 40 written-in “no” votes for each.
SENATE BILL 21 by Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford: 221 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy
SENATE BILL 19 by Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford: 211 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Requires physicians to offer a patient the chance to see an ultrasound and listen to the fetal heart tone before performing an abortion
The bill sponsor, Sen. Richardson, says he will try to “get both bills out of committee and to the Senate floor for a vote” this year.
8. Banning paper shopping bags
The bill had about as much opposition among survey participants as the abortion restrictions, with more than 40 written-in “no” votes.
HOUSE BILL 224 by Rep. Michael Smith, R-Pike Creek Valley: 177 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Bans single-use paper bags by 2021
Smith plans to push this bill again in 2020.
9. School boards raising taxes without voter approval
HOUSE BILL 129 by Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow: 131 votes
WHAT IT DOES: Lets school boards raise taxes without a referendum
Of all the items we polled, this bill had the most write-in opposition with more than 60 naysayers.
“I’m striking that bill,” Jaques said before hearing the survey results. “Its purpose was to start a conversation about school funding, and it did that.”