In his recent State of the State Address, Governor Jack Markell highlighted several accomplishments as well as challenges in the area of “governing responsibly.” The Governor indicated that beyond careful management of its dollars and investments, the state needs to make continued strides toward more transparency, in part by developing online tools that inform citizens who is lobbying in Dover and what they are lobbying for.
“The trust of people in their state government should not be undermined by a perception that lobbyists have hidden access here in Dover,” Markell said.
During the early working days of the Delaware General Assembly in 2012, legislators are getting the opportunity to deal with other issues related to openness in government and the Freedom of Information Act.
Members of the House are considering a measure to update Delaware’s Workplace Fraud Act that would require the Department of Labor to publicize the names of employers who are found in violation of the Workplace Fraud Act by misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor or otherwise. The names of the employers would appear on the department’s website. Repeated violations within a three-year period would make the company ineligible for state contracts.
“It’s kind of an open government bill,” its sponsor State Representative Earl Jaques (D-Glasgow) said. “We have people reporting violations now. They just don’t know anything is being done.”
According to Jaques, the primary violation involves employers that are not paying unemployment insurance and other related expenses they are supposed to pay. “They’re basically cheating the state,” he added.
Another bill being heard in committee this week, sponsored by House Minority Leader Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley), would redefine the “public record” under the Freedom of Information act to include state agency records regarding “hours worked in a merit pay position held by an elected official who is also a State merit pay employee. Information collected or compiled includes but is not limited to electronic-swipe and other time-clock documents that record when an employee enters or exits the workplace.”
The bill, which has numerous co-sponsors, appears to be a direct response to a FOIA related opinion from the Attorney General’s office last summer involving Senate President Pro Tem Anthony DeLuca (D-Varlano), who is employed by the state Department of Labor. The News Journal requested disclosure of electronic card swipe information showing when Sen. DeLuca arrived and departed from his state job, but the opinion agreed with the Department of Labor’s position that release of that information posed a security concern. The Attorney General’s office also supported the Department of Labor’s refusal to release Sen. DeLuca’s timesheets because of his merit employee status.
Higher fines for crimes against seniors (House Bill 240)
A measure to create a fund benefiting senior citizen programs by imposing an additional surcharge on crimes that involve a victim who is 62 years of age or older has passed the state House of Representatives.
State Representative E. Bradford Bennett (D-Dover) said the bill was necessary to protect Delaware’s fastest-growing segment of the population. “Crimes against seniors are on the rise, up 17-percent from 2007 to 2010,” Bennett said. During that same period, felony crimes targeting seniors in the state were up 38-percent.
The Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities would administer the Senior Trust Fund. “That fund will be used for new and expanded programs for our senior population,” Bennett said.
A bill that would increase Delaware’s minimum wage is on its way to a vote in the Senate, despite objections that it would increase the cost of doing business.
State Senator Robert Marshall (D-Wilmington) is sponsoring legislation that would increase the minimum wage by one-dollar in two phases by January of 2014. The current minimum of $7.25 per hour would rise to $7.75 per hour early next year, then to $8.25 an hour.
The bill was released from the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee Tuesday.