Commentary: House leaders outline GA's accomplishments

By Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, Rep. Valerie Longhurst and Rep. Larry Mitchell
Posted 12/7/21

With the first half of the 151st General Assembly completed, we wanted to take a moment to share with you our progress on key issues.

We share many of the same goals and values a majority of …

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Commentary: House leaders outline GA's accomplishments

Posted

With the first half of the 151st General Assembly completed, we wanted to take a moment to share with you our progress on key issues.

We share many of the same goals and values a majority of Delawareans hold, and this legislative session, the General Assembly has passed or advanced many of the key initiatives we pledged to take on. Some of the issues we’ve tackled haven’t garnered headlines but, nonetheless, will benefit people across the state, and we want to highlight them here.

The General Assembly overwhelmingly passed the Clean Water for Delaware Act, which immediately invests $50 million in clean-water projects that will rebuild Delaware’s drinking-water infrastructure, prevent flooding in vulnerable communities and keep contamination out of our waterways. We passed the Drinking Water Protection Act, which will establish a process for development of an enforceable limit for dangerous substances known as “forever chemicals,” such as PFAS. Delaware will eliminate single-use plastic bags at most retail businesses by July 1, 2022, under a new law approved this year. We passed a law enabling community-based solar projects to increase renewable-energy offerings. And we have passed a law increasing Delaware’s renewable portfolio standard to reach 40% renewable energy by 2035.

The legislature passed a constitutional Equal Rights Amendment protecting people from discrimination based on race, color or national origin. We passed the CROWN Act, protecting hairstyles traditionally associated with race. We established Juneteenth as a legal state holiday. We also approved legislation requiring each school district and charter school serving students in kindergarten through 12th grades to provide curricula on Black history beginning in the 2022-23 academic year.

GA voted to raise Delaware’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, fulfilling a key priority of this year’s legislative session and fostering a more prosperous future for thousands of working families statewide. We also voted to end the youth and training wages, which allowed businesses to pay less than minimum wage to young workers and new employees. We phased out the subminimum wage paid to people with disabilities, ending a practice that allowed certain entities to pay paltry wages to the disabled. We passed a bill that makes Delaware’s Earned Income Tax Credit refundable, providing low-income individuals financial relief on their income taxes.

The General Assembly passed the Telehealth Access Preservation and Modernization Act, permanently codifying telemedicine as an option for Delawareans. We reined in prescription drug prices by regulating pharmacy benefit managers. We also passed a bill requiring schools throughout Delaware to provide free tampons, pads and other menstrual products to students.

The House and Senate expanded elementary school mental health services. We increased K-3 special-education funding. We established an emergency housing fund for college students facing homelessness or housing insecurity. We expanded the Delaware Technical Community College Student Excellence Equals Degree and Delaware State University Inspire scholarships. We provided a college tuition waiver for youth aging out of foster care. We codified Delaware’s Opportunity Fund, creating a permanent, weighted funding system for low-income students and English learners, guaranteeing $60 million in funding by fiscal 2025.

After the killing of George Floyd and other prominent deaths of Black Americans, the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus unveiled its “Justice for All Agenda” in June 2020, an evolving, multistep plan to address police and criminal justice reform. This year, the General Assembly passed several components of that plan and other reform efforts, including requiring all law enforcement agencies to use body-worn cameras, ending youth incarceration in adult prisons, raising the minimum age for juvenile prosecution, funding grants for programs that will reduce juvenile recidivism, ending the practice of publicly disseminating and publishing juvenile mug shots, requiring law enforcement to electronically record custodial interrogations, creating an objective use-of-force standard for Delaware police officers, and automating Delaware’s expungement process for thousands of adults and juveniles.

Expanding voting rights and improving access to the polls also has been a focus for the General Assembly this session. We have established automatic voter registration and are working toward consolidating our state and federal primaries, which would move Delaware’s state primary from the latest in the nation to the spring. We also are proposing to institute same-day voter registration and to allow for no-excuse absentee voting.

Additionally, the General Assembly has passed numerous COVID-19-related bills, including legislation providing restaurants relief, to-go alcohol sales and outdoor dining; suspending teacher evaluations during the pandemic; and exempting unemployment benefits from personal income tax.

The 2021 legislative session has been one of the most productive years in recent memory, as we have tackled numerous issues, well beyond a handful of high-profile priorities. We are encouraged by this historic progress and look forward to an equally productive second half of the session in 2022.

Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, is speaker of the House of Representatives. Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, is House majority leader. Rep. Larry Mitchell, D-Elsmere, is House majority whip.