Issue 581 - January 26, 2024

In photo: State Rep. Jeff Hilovsky discusses his concerns regarding House Bill 285 during Thursday's floor debate. Also featured (facing, from left) are State Reps. Valerie Jones Giltner and Bryan Shupe.

Bill Seeks to Relax, Eliminate Medical Marijuana Precautions


A disputed bill seeking to relax Delaware’s medical marijuana law passed the Delaware House of Representatives on Thursday.


State Rep. Edward Osienski (D-Newark), the lead sponsor of Delaware’s recreational marijuana law, is also the author of the new legislation (House Bill 285). He said it resulted from discussions with patients, medical marijuana distributors (compassion center owners), and cannabis advocates.


Rep. Osienski maintains compassion centers are under increasing competitive pressure from recreational marijuana businesses in neighboring New Jersey and Maryland. It is expected that Delaware’s recreational marijuana industry will likely not be operating for another one to two years, and he says his measure would help compassion centers and medical marijuana cardholders in the interim.


House Bill 285 would remove the need for a patient to have a debilitating medical condition to qualify for a card, instead allowing healthcare providers to determine if cannabis might provide a benefit.


This act would also allow people with out-of-state medical marijuana cards to be served at Delaware compassion centers. Additionally, it would empower state officials to issue cards to residents that would be valid for up to three years.


The most contentious aspect of the new bill would allow patients at least 65 years old to self-certify for a medical marijuana card. According to Rep. Osienski, more than a third (36.7%) of Delaware’s nearly 17,000 cardholders are seniors (61 or older).


Debating the bill yesterday, State Rep. Valerie Jones Giltner (R-Georgetown), a retired critical care nurse and healthcare consultant, took issue with the self-certification provision. “Based on CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) data, we know that 97.9% of patients over 65 already have a co-existing condition and should be engaged with a [healthcare] provider. Yet, this bill suggests circumventing that relationship between a patient and their provider.”


Rep. Osienski countered that it is a patient’s responsibility to have conversations regarding their lifestyle choices with their doctor, including the potential use of marijuana.


State Rep. Jeff Hilovsky (R-Long Neck-Oak Orchard), a retired licensed physician, said the bill essentially “confers a medical degree on those 65 years old and older” for the purposes of determining if medical marijuana was an appropriate treatment option. He said the legislation would place older laypeople in the uncomfortable position of making critical decisions regarding appropriate dosages, consumption rate, interactions with current medications, and potential side effects. Referencing a recent California manslaughter proceeding, Rep. Hilovsky said the consequences of making the wrong choices could be dire. In that case, a man was brutally killed by a woman he was dating after she suffered a severe psychotic episode due to an unexpected marijuana reaction.


Rep. Osienski dismissed those concerns, stating: “I think there are a lot of more dangerous substances out there…such as alcohol and tobacco, and nobody is prescribing the dosage for that. We have the freedom to know your own body and what is tolerable for you, and the same would apply to medical marijuana or recreational marijuana.”

He added that once recreational marijuana is fully implemented, all Delawareans will be able to self-medicate.


State Rep. Bryan Shupe (R-Milford South) took up the debate, challenging the notion that medical advice on taking marijuana products was unneeded. “Without your doctor advising you on whether this is the right medication for your condition, how do you know whether it is the right thing to prescribe, and how do you know how much to take?”


Rep. Osienski said many older Delawareans get advice from their friends at the senior center.


“So you think medical advice from their buddies at the senior center is a better reference than their actual medical professional?” Rep. Shupe asked.


“Sometimes it is,” Rep. Osienski responded.


The bill cleared the House on a vote of 26 to 10. It now heads to the Senate for consideration.

G.A. Republicans Backing Proposals to Increase Public Awareness, Scrutiny

Hoping to build on some recent success, House and Senate Republicans today discussed four reform proposals they are backing this year to improve public awareness and media scrutiny of bills moving through the state legislature.

After many failed attempts, Delaware finally eliminated an antiqued practice of working into the early morning hours on the last night of the legislative session this past year. State House Minority Whip Lyndon Yearick (R-Camden-Wyoming) said if the legislature can come together to pass that bipartisan constitutional amendment, perhaps the time is right to consider further needed reforms.


Creating a Crossover Day in Delaware


Rep. Yearick is sponsoring House Bill 269, the first leg of a proposed constitutional amendment seeking to create a ‘crossover day.’ The measure would establish a deadline near the end of the annual legislative session, after which no new bills could crossover from one chamber to the next. At least 26 states have such laws, including Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia.


“The Delaware General Assembly currently has no restriction on when bills can be introduced,” Rep. Yearick said. “Implementing this change would prevent a complicated or contentious bill from being fast-tracked through the legislature in the session's last few days, or hours, without proper public notice or committee consideration.” 


The bill, which has some bipartisan support, would set Delaware Crossover Day on or before June 20th. The amendment would not apply to resolutions and the state’s operating budget, capital budget, or Grants-in-Aid bill. “The money bills already get a lot of attention and typically come in late due to the last state revenue estimate issued in June,” Rep. Yearick said. “My proposal also contains an emergency contingency, allowing the crossover restriction to be waived by a two-thirds supermajority vote.”


State Sen. Eric Buckson (R-Dover South), the prime Senate sponsor of the bill, said the proposal has already proven its worth. “We’re not on the leading edge of this reform,” he said. “Most states already have a crossover day and have used it for years. If there is an argument against it, I have yet to hear it.”


HB 269 is currently pending consideration in the House Administration Committee.  


A supplemental proposal sponsored by Rep. Yearick would bar the introduction of any new legislation in either chamber after June 15. “The Crossover Day amendment would prevent legislation from advancing to the other chamber without an opportunity for due consideration,” he said. “This constitutional amendment would complement that objective by barring bills that cannot move forward from being needlessly introduced. The same exceptions that apply to Crossover Day would be applicable here,” he said.

Eliminating “Double-Dipping” by Government Officials


A reintroduction of House Bill 126 (150th GA), this Senate Bill will be sponsored by State Senate Republican Leader Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View). It seeks to prevent double-dipping by elected officials or paid appointed officials at the state, county, or local levels -- who are also employed by any government agency, education, or other institution – to disclose such employment to the Public Integrity Commission. The disclosure would assist the commission and the State Auditor to evaluate if the official received dual compensation for overlapping work hours.   


“This seems like a bill that should have flown through the legislature the first time it was filed,” Sen. Hocker said. “Yet, it died in committee without consideration. That was five years ago, and the original sponsor, Ruth Briggs King, is no longer here. I feel the obligation to revisit it. Maybe this time, anyone who’s opposing this could provide their rationale. I’d love to hear it.” 


Preventing Members of the House & Senate from Evading Public Scrutiny of Their Bills  (See Video)


The House of Representatives and Senate have rules requiring that the bills introduced in each chamber receive a committee hearing, requiring advance public notification and an opportunity for expert testimony and public comment. The hearings are streamed online, and the recordings of the events are posted for review. 


“The committees are where the bills are typically parsed and analyzed,” said State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman (R-Clayton). “The problem is that this deliberative process can be easily short-circuited. Both chambers can frustrate these protections by simply choosing not to follow the rules. Worse, these are simple majority voice votes, where the individual votes are not recorded, and no one is held accountable.”


Rep. Spiegelman and Sen. Buckson plan to introduce separate reform resolutions in their respective chambers requiring a three-fifths (60%) majority to suspend the rules and that the votes cast by each legislator be recorded.  


“Cutting the corners to eliminate public notice and citizen input on legislation is not an act that should be taken lightly or easily done,” Sen. Buckson said. “These changes in the House and Senate rules would modestly raise the bar on these actions and require legislators to publicly take responsibility for their decisions when they chose to eliminate these safeguards.”


Governor's Proposed State Operating Budget Tops $6 Billion

On Thursday, Governor John Carney presented his Fiscal Year 2025 recommended state operating budget.


The $6.074  billion proposal is about $468 million more than the current spending plan, an 8.34% increase. Healthcare costs were one of the leading drivers, responsible for about $2 billion of the suggested appropriations. The budget also includes funding for a 2% pay increase for state employees, $2.1 billion for public education, and $56 million as part of an ongoing effort to pay down the state's outstanding pension obligations.

The graphs above show the expected breakdown for FY 2025 state revenue and operating expenditures.

Budget-writing lawmakers, the 12-member Joint Finance Committee (JFC), will recraft the governor's recommended budget to account for legislative priorities and changes to the state revenue forecast. The JFC will begin its work next week with the start of five weeks of hearings.

Here are some brief reactions from leading House and Senate Republicans to the governor's recommended operating budget.

Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Marydel), JFC Member:

 "I appreciate that Governor Carney continues to allocate revenue to the Budget Smoothing Fund, which will better prepare Delaware for lean budget years. I do think, however, we should look for more areas where we can spend less money. This year's budget is just over $6 billion, $2 billion more than Governor Carney's first signed budget in 2017. I am afraid that this continued growth, especially if a more progressive administration assumes office next year, will come back and bite us."


Sen. Eric Buckson (R-Dover), JFC Member:

 "I understood the high spending last year as we were still digging our way out of the pandemic and, in many ways, playing catch up. We now have to look forward, and, in doing so, the proposed budget growth concerns me. By most measurements, and based on recent DEFAC projections, the next few fiscal years could be quite lean. We should focus our attention on saving money now while we can instead of continuing to spend as if near-future shortfalls will never occur."


House Minority Leader Representative Mike Ramone (R-Pike Creek South):

"The pace of state spending growth is troubling. I would have liked to have seen more from the governor about addressing inefficiencies in government operations. I believe we could be making better use of technology, taking steps to consolidate partially used schools and facilities, and reducing the cost of regulatory compliance. That might have reduced inflationary pressures and allowed us to consider some modest tax relief for citizens and small businesses."

"However, I was gratified to see that the Aglands Preservation and the Open Space programs were fully funded. I think the proposed two-percent across-the-board raise for state employees and the appropriation to continue paying down our underfunded state retiree pension obligation were good expenditures. I was also pleased to see that we will be maintaining our retirees' current healthcare benefits."

House Minority Whip Lyndon Yearick (R-Camden-Wyoming) said he was concerned about the rise in healthcare costs for state employees and retirees:

"We're on an unsustainable track. We need to bend that cost curve. I will be again sponsoring a resolution to help state employees and retirees make more informed choices about their healthcare coverage, so they can save money, maintain the coverage with which they feel comfortable, and reduce taxpayer expenses."

Bipartisan Bill to Expand Sunday Hunting Passes House

A bipartisan bill seeking to allow Sunday hunting for game birds passed the House of Representatives on Thursday on a unanimous vote.

At present, the only hunting allowed on Sunday in Delaware is for white-tailed deer.

Among the sponsors of the legislation were all four co-chairs of the Delaware Sportsmen's Caucus (DSC): State Rep. William J. Carson (D-Smyrna), State Rep. Jeff Spiegelman (R-Clayton), State Sen. Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown), and State Sen. Nicole Poore (D-New Castle).

"Many Delawareans miss hunting opportunities because of work obligations," said Rep. Carson, the prime House sponsor of the bill. "Adding Sundays to the season makes House Bill 271 a game-changer for those who wish to hunt waterfowl."

Rep. Carson noted that the prohibition of Sunday hunting was initiated more than a century ago and has become antiquated, given the demands of today's work and family schedules. He contends that Sundays are sometimes the only opportunity for Delawareans to hunt.

Rep. Spiegelman said he was pleased to see the legislation garner universal support in the House. "Hopefully, this passes through the Senate and is signed into law by the governor so that Delaware can join the other 42 states that already allow game bird hunting on Sundays. This is an important step towards hunter retention in The First State."

Should the legislation be enacted, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) would still maintain oversight and set waterfowl seasons within federal guidelines.

The waterfowl conservation organization Ducks Unlimited issued a statement endorsing the bill: "Increased access to waterfowl hunting helps share our sporting traditions, increase hunter participation, and create more hunting opportunities for all. Through the framework of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, waterfowl hunters have generated billions of dollars towards critical conservation efforts through the purchase of hunting licenses, duck stamps, and taxes paid on hunting equipment. Because of this direct link between hunter participation and waterfowl conservation, Ducks Unlimited, Inc. supports efforts to legalize public waterfowl hunting access on Sundays in the few remaining states that do not already allow it."

HB 271 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

State of the State Address Set for March

Governor John Carney's State of the State Address, initially slated for January 18 but postponed due to illness, will occur in March.

Earlier this week, the governor's office said the chief executive's annual remarks are delayed until Tuesday, March 5, at 2 p.m. 

The speech, delivered to a joint session of the General Assembly, usually reflects on the administration's accomplishments over the previous year and broadly outlines the governor's policy priorities for the year ahead. As a term-limited governor, this will be John Carney's last such speech.

The General Assembly is in recess as legislative budget writers conduct hearings over the next five weeks. March 5 will be the first time the legislature meets following the break.