Bill to eliminate Delaware register of wills post draws opposition

DOVER — Kent County officials told a Senate committee Wednesday they believe the post of register of wills shouldn’t be eliminated.

“We have a well-run office today and it’s been like that for many, many years,” County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange told the Senate Executive Committee. “In Kent County’s case we feel the office should remain a county office.”

No decision was made by the committee regarding Senate Bill 256, a bill that would abolish the county position of register of wills and create, instead, a single state position under the umbrella of the Court of Chancery.

Michael Petit de Mange

Michael Petit de Mange

The committee discussed the bill Wednesday, hearing testimony from those in favor and opposed to the legislation.

Support for the consolidation of the position came from Andre Bouchard, a two-year chancellor in the Court of Chancery.

“I’ve come to learn a lot about operations and great efficiency will be gained by consolidating three positions into one,” Chancellor Bouchard said. “The registers of wills currently operate by state law, not county. Uniformity is key reason to support this bill.”

Chancellor Bouchard’s statements were influenced by what the Court of Chancery sees as a duplication of efforts. The court handles disputes related to wills.

Although support for the bill comes from the Court of Chancery, both Kent and Sussex counties’ officials have come out in opposition.

New Castle County has yet to comment on the bill.

Kent County Levy Court has passed a resolution in opposition to the bill. Mr. Petit de Mange and Commissioner Eric Buckson attended the committee meeting to defend the resolution.

Robert Maxwell spoke on behalf of the Delaware Association of Counties, siding with Kent and Sussex counties.

“My bias is government works best at local level which includes state legislature as well,” he said. “The essence of this bill isn’t new to us. Discussion has occurred in the past where county row offices have been incorporated into the state.

“The main problem we see here is that no one has asked our customers what they think about it, and we think if you ask them, they’d say they like the service as it is.”

The League of Women voters brought another prospective into the debate. They believe the register of wills should not be an elected position considering the officeholder has no responsibilities that affect public policy.

Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford, back at work inside the Senate chamber Tuesday. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

F, Gary Simpson

Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington, said it would be best to hold off on a decision so more discussion can take place between now and when the bill would be reintroduced in January.

If the bill were to be passed, the biggest concerns all involved parties held were the transition to the single office, the reassignment of registers to either county or state jobs and the economic impact each county would face.

Also on the executive agenda was Senate Bill 250 to amend the Delaware constitution in relation to the position of lieutenant governor.

“By the time we have an election in November, the seat will have sat empty for two years,” said Sen. Gary Simpson, R-Milford. “The

amendment would allow for a special election if the seat becomes vacant again in the future.

“If the seat were empty and the governor was out of office, the position will fall to an unelected official. The heart of democracy is allowing the people to vote for who will represent them.”

The office became vacant when Lt. Gov. Matt Denn was elected state attorney general in 2014.

Although special elections are held in legislative districts, a statewide special election may total more than $1 million. With cost being one concern, the issue of letting money influence the democratic process was called a “slippery slope.”

No decision was reached on the bill by the end of the meeting.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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