Milford lawmaker questions stall of water-improvement bill

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 6/30/21

DOVER — A Republican state lawmaker says legislation he crafted would bring immediate grant-based relief to low-income families facing drinking water issues, augmenting a bill passed last week by the state Senate that provides long-term solutions.

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Milford lawmaker questions stall of water-improvement bill


DOVER — A Republican state lawmaker says legislation he crafted would bring immediate grant-based relief to low-income families facing drinking water issues, augmenting a bill passed last week by the state Senate that provides long-term solutions.

Rep. Bryan Shupe of Milford believes House Bill 69, which he developed with the state Division of Public Health, differs from House Bill 200 — an act backed by Democratic House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst of Bear that would establish a Clean Water Trust account and increase funding for low-income and underserved communities.

HB 200, unanimously passed by senators June 22, is awaiting Gov. John Carney’s signature.
HB 69 was unanimously approved by the House Health & Human Development Committee in March, but Rep. Shupe said the House majority leader refused to work the bill further.

The General Assembly’s session ends Wednesday.

“I talked with Valerie Longhurst and had several discussions with her. I personally believe that, for some reason, she thinks (HB 69) is some sort of threat to HB 200, which is a water bill that she has been working on for a long time,” said Rep. Shupe. “I was a sponsor for HB 200. Again, ‘sponsor’ just kind of means you like something more than another one. It doesn’t mean that you worked on it. I think a lot of times with legislation, it has to be ‘either-or,’ and I think, in this case, it should be an ‘and.’”

In a statement, Rep. Longhurst did not address Rep. Shupe’s claim, instead reiterating her support for HB 200.

“I have been focused on passing and ensuring funding for the Clean Water for Delaware Act, a truly historic, all-encompassing and transformative law that has the potential to drastically improve our state’s water quality for drinking, swimming or supporting aquatic life,” she said.

Passed by the House in April, HB 200 would create a Clean Water Trust account and boost monies for low-income and underserved areas. It requires a comprehensive clean-water report and strategic plan to ensure that priority projects are addressed in a timely fashion.

The Clean Water Trust would include appropriations in the bond bill for safe drinking water, water-pollution control and resource conservation and development projects, plus loan repayments, interest on invested funds and other funding made available for those purposes.

To help seed the trust, Gov. Carney has allocated $50 million in his fiscal year 2022 budget for clean-water projects, including $22.5 million for safe drinking water, $22.5 million for water-pollution control and $5 million for resource conservation and development.

As proposed, HB 69 would give individuals throughout the state who meet two criteria the ability to get safe drinking water through a grant system. Qualifying criteria are that their drinking water is unsafe as determined by the requirements of the Division of Public Health and that individuals meet income needs through the state, which are the same for food stamps or any kind of state assistance, Rep. Shupe said.

Proposed as a pilot program, HB 69 would set up a grant system where those individuals will be able to qualify for grants for a water-filtration system on their property — whether they are homeowners or renters.

“I also want to make it known, … not only did I sponsor (HB69), I created it with (DPH),” said Rep. Shupe. “We actually created this program together and created this legislation. I think that’s a little bit different. A lot of times what people will do is they’ll just take a bill from another state and sponsor it. We actually created this bill from the ground up.

“HB 200 is long-term strategy. In the meantime, HB 69 can act as a stopgap to help these families on the ground to get clean water. And, literally, (DPH) said they could have the filtration system on their home a month after they recognize the problem,” he added.

Rep. Longhurst explained HB 200 further, saying, “HB 200 includes an unprecedented $50 million investment in its first year to improve the quality of Delaware’s water supply and waterways. As part of this new law, the Clean Water Trust Oversight Committee will be working to assist municipal and county governments and others in implementing affordable water quality projects. I’m confident that once implemented, HB 200 will provide a dramatic improvement in our water quality across our state.”

Rep. Shupe said Rep. Longhurst tried to “convince me that it’s covered in (HB 200). There is no language that specifically addresses this stopgap period where families are still drinking unsafe water. There is nothing that addresses specifically water-filtration systems or individuals that aren’t on large water systems.”

Rep. Shupe added that he advocated for HB 200.

“I think it’s worthwhile. It sets up funding for large infrastructure projects,” he said. “What I tried to explain to her was that I support HB 200. I think putting a funding mechanism in place for large infrastructure projects is really the only way that we can fix the large-scale water problems that we have, the issues that we have.

“The trouble I see, the reason why I feel HB 69 needs to also be passed is because, firsthand, I have seen, as the mayor of Milford and now as a state representative, that these projects take years to happen. It’s not because anybody is not doing their job or that somebody is falling behind. It’s just the public process that needs to happen.”

HB 69 would be launched as a pilot program, Rep. Shupe said.

“Through HB 69, we are asking for a pilot program for two years — $49,000 every year for two years. The reason why we wanted to set up a pilot project is, over and over again, the state will address certain issues with basically just throwing a lot of money at a problem. What we wanted to do with HB 69 is create a pilot program that we think will work,” he said.

“We think this will address issues directly on the ground for individuals that need help now and cannot wait until infrastructure reaches them. But there are always ways for improvement. There are always ways that maybe we need to pivot and do something better. So we want to put it into a pilot program and come back to the General Assembly and say, ‘Here is the empirical evidence. Here is how the program worked.’ If it does prove to be successful, then we can allocate more money and more years onto the program.”

Rep. Shupe added that the two pieces of legislation can work together.

“What HB 69, in my opinion, does (is) acts as a partner with HB 200 to say, ‘HB 200 is great (for) fixing these large-scale problems that we’ve had for decades with our water issues. HB 69 will help these individuals on the ground level get water-filtration systems in their homes while they are waiting for that infrastructure to get in place.’”