Lawmakers file bills to extend protections in state of emergency

DOVER — Democratic lawmakers filed several bills Friday that would extend provisions of the state of emergency imposed by the governor in March. The bills, which could be heard next week, deal with voting by mail, telemedicine and outdoor restaurant seating capacity.

“The extraordinary circumstances surrounding the coronavirus pandemic has forced us to make drastic changes to our daily lives during these past three months,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat, said in a statement. “While we have slowly and steadily reopened parts of our economy and moved into a ‘new normal,’ there are certain protections that Governor Carney has enacted via executive order that will need to outlive his State of Emergency.

“By passing these bills and other proposals we are developing, we will ensure that residents and businesses continue to have many of these protections in place.”

House Bill 346 would allow all eligible voters to cast ballots by mail for any election this year, expanding the absentee voting system in place for decades here. The measure would direct the Department of Elections to mail an application for a vote-by-mail ballot to every voter who can participate. Voters would fill out and mail back the form to receive a ballot.

Postage for all these mailings would be pre-paid by the state.

Due to COVID-19, Delaware’s twice-delayed July 7 presidential primary will be conducted mostly by mail.

“No one should ever have to choose between protecting their health and exercising their right to cast a ballot,” Senate Majority Leader Nicole Poore, a New Castle Democrat, said in a statement.

“For this election cycle, this legislation will give voters in Delaware the choice of voting from home by expanding our existing absentee ballot process, a secure and reliable method of voting that has been proven to work over decades of use by members of our military, people with disabilities and people on vacation during Election Day.”

The proposal is sponsored by all 38 Democrats.

House Bill 349 would enable food and drink establishments to sell alcoholic beverages for takeout, curbside or drive-through service. It would also authorize them to expand their outdoor seating space and increase their square footage and overall seating capacity through March.

House Bill 348 would codify the provisions that allow patients to meet with their medical providers via telemedicine services without having to show up in person first.

Under the bill, Delaware residents do not need to be present in Delaware at the time the telemedicine services are provided, and any health care provider from another state who holds a license elsewhere and would be permitted to provide telemedicine services in Delaware if licensed may offer telemedicine services to a Delaware resident.

It would expire at the end of March.

House Bill 347 would let the Office of Management and Budget extend the period pertaining to procurement of goods and services by state agencies for up to 15 days, permit bids and proposals to be submitted electronically and allow for electronic execution of documents. This would be extended until March.

Also, House Bill 345 would extend the deadlines for several legislative task forces and committees, many of which have not been able to meet or been severely limited by the virus.

Other proposals will be filed in the coming days.

The legislative session ends June 30. After several months off, lawmakers began meeting again two weeks ago, with most of this legislative session going down as another casualty of the pandemic.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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