By Terry Rogers
Senator Simpson and Representatives Kenton and Peterman Discuss the Upcoming 2013 Legislative Session
The 2013 Legislative Session began in Dover on Tuesday as the members of the General Assembly took their Oaths of Office. Representative Harvey Kenton took his oath on Tuesday, January 8, while Representative Jack Peterman took his oath the following day due to a scheduling conflict. Senator Gary Simpson took his Oath of Office on December 5, 2012 with other members of the State Senate when they were called into special session to consider a series of judicial nominations.
It promises to be a busy year for lawmakers, with budgetary matters, gun control, school safety, slot machine legislation, environmental issues as well as decisions about gay marriage and the death penalty facing the legislators this year. Several of these matters, including the state budget, slot machine legislation and environmental issues could affect the greater Milford area directly, according to those that represent the area.
“In my mind, the primary issue deals with balancing the State budget,” said Senator Gary Simpson, the Republican senator representing the Milford area. “Although we had hoped for a turnaround in the revenue portion of the budget, it has not happened, at least to the extent we thought it might happen four years ago.” Senator Simpson explained that a number of tax hikes were enacted to ease an $800 million shortfall in the budget.
“These hikes were meant to sunset this year and next,” Simpson said. “It is my intention to hold the administration to that pledge. In my opinion, dollars left in the pocket of the citizens of Delaware are better spent by them than for additional programs run by the government.” Representative’s Jack Peterman and Harvey Kenton agree with Simpson’s assessment.
“The economy is not as good as some people would like us to believe,” Peterman stated. “I have spoken to many business owners who tell me they just don’t have the jobs to offer people and this is having an effect on our state budget as people can’t spend money like they want to. I am also concerned about the health insurance bill which was supposed to save people money, but instead looks like it is going to cost a lot more than people expected. All of these factors have an impact on our state budget.”
Representative Harvey Kenton also sees the budget as the biggest issue facing the legislature this year.
“With the temporary tax hikes enacted in 2009 set to expire in the new fiscal year which begins July 1, there is going to be a lively debate on the issue of extending those increases,” Kenton explained. Harvey Kenton is a Republican representing the 36th District, while Jack Peterman, also a Republican, represents the 33rd District. Simpson stated, however, that Milford was fortunate to have two very able and fiscally conservative members appointed to the State’s two budget-writing committees.
“Representative Harvey Kenton will sit on the Joint Finance Committee and Representative Dave Wilson will join the Bond Bill Committee,” Simpson explained. “Both of these gentlemen have done a terrific job since coming into the legislature, and I am confident they will hold everyone’s feet to the fire when it comes to tightening our budget belt. I congratulate them both for their appointments to these prestigious committees.” Dave Wilson, a Republican, represents the 35th Legislative District.
In his first term in office last year, Kenton felt that one of the most important issues facing the greater Milford area was the flooding issues that affected Prime Hook, Slaughter and Bowers beaches. Both Peterman and Simpson also expressed concerns regarding those environmental issues.
“The federal government has promised $20 million for beach restoration in Delaware. Whether or not a portion of that money will be used to close the breaches in the protective line of sand dunes in the Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge is still an open question,” Kenton said. Peterman said that he was currently reviewing the information provided by the federal government.
“We basically have three options. We can do nothing and allow the houses to be destroyed down the road; the state could purchase the houses from the current owners and allow them to be destroyed, or we can fix this problem,” Peterman stated. “In my opinion, it is not fair to do nothing and it could have a devastating effect on tourism for the state. We keep telling people we are going to do something, yet we do nothing.” Senator Simpson believes that the recent information from the federal government indicates that they are listening to what the citizens of Delaware want to see happen in the flood prone areas.
“The federal government recently released their final Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, which has been long-awaited by this legislator and others living along the coastal area,” Simpson explained. “Fortunately, it seems the folks running the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally listened to hundreds of Delawareans and state government officials when the first CCP was released several months ago, and changed many of their initial recommendations to better reflect what we, the citizens of Delaware wanted. It now appears that the breaches along our dune line at Prime Hook will be closed and the marsh restored which should alleviate much of the prior flooding we have experienced for the past several years.” Simpson explained that the corrected breaches will especially impact Prime Hook while to a lesser extent impact Slaughter and Broadkill beaches.
Gun control is another topic that the legislators will discuss during this session. Representative Peterman stated that many of his constituents are concerned about the topic, but he is not sure how the state can address the issue when federal laws override state laws in such cases.
“The Markell administration on Monday morning unveiled a package of five gun control measures that promise to be very controversial,” Kenton stated. He also expects the same-sex marriage issue, which the Governor supports, to also be a hotly contested topic among legislators this year.
In regard to the slot machine and non-profit organization controversy, Kenton stated that he felt the issue needed to be resolved as quickly as possible, but that it was more of a “tangled knot than it might appear at first blush.” Peterman also wants to see a quick decision about the non-profit slot machines.
“Non-profits help many underprivileged people, and they often step in when the state cannot,” Peterman explained. “We need to help these groups in some way so they can continue providing services to those less fortunate.”
“I think we need to allow limited charitable gaming under a system that is accountable, verifiable and treats players fairly,” Kenton said. “Establishing a compromise that meets these goals, and which will be acceptable by the majority of the stakeholders involved in this situation will not happen overnight.”
Senator Simpson is confident that Delaware is on the right path, especially where the economy is concerned.
“Delaware runs on small business and there’s no better example of this than right here in Milford, the hub of small business. We must continue to promote southern Delaware as the place to be doing business,” Simpson said. “We have low property taxes, no sales tax, close to major markets and highways, friendly people and knowledgeable city government officials.”