Legislative action involves maternity leave, school alarms and funding for education

 

DOVER — After a slow start, the legislative session has ramped up quickly. Lawmakers have introduced bills dealing with paid maternity leave, additional resources for students from low-income households and school alarms.

House Bill 96 would mandate every state public school add a silent alarm to help provide additional security by notifying local law enforcement in the event the alarm is triggered.

The proposal would affect the 211 schools that do not currently have an alarm system and cost between $500 and $1,500 per building, according to the Office of the Controller General. With the state paying for the installation, expenses would total between $105,500 and $316,500.

Rep. Joseph Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, is the main sponsor.

“The impetus is to improve safety in the schools and to make sure that if there is an incident there is a quick response by notifying the proper authorities that there is a need for response at a particular building,” he said.

He described himself as hopeful in regard the bill’s prospects, noting while it would fill a need, money remains an obstacle. Rep. Miro said he is hopeful additional funds from the state or federal government could appear to cover the costs.

He introduced a similar bill in 2013, but that one failed due to financial concerns. Whereas that version had an ongoing annual cost of $79,560, House Bill 96 would integrate that into existing security systems, saving the school districts money.

It was released from the House Education Committee last week.

Campaign contributions

Another piece of legislation would raise campaign contributions limits. House Bill 128, which has backers on both sides of the aisle, would increase the ceiling from $1,200 to $2,000 for statewide elections and $600 to $1,000 for other races.

It also would lift the limit from a political party to a House of Representatives candidate from $3,000 to $5,000, making it equal to a Senate hopeful, and for a donation from an individual to a party to $30,000 from $20,000.

It is in the House Administration Committee.

School funding

House Bill 117, a Democratic-backed proposal, would provide funding for schools serving low-income students. Schools get funding based on the size of their student bodies, and under House Bill 117, for every 250 students deemed to belong to a low-income household, a school would receive an extra unit — typically another teacher, which is the equivalent of about $66,100 in state money and $28,500 in local funding.

About 187 extra units would be generated by this bill, according to the Office of the Controller General. If implemented before the next fiscal year, it would carry with it a cost of about $12.3 million to the state and $5.3 million to the district.

“Research has shown that low-income students struggle in school more often than others and would benefit greatly from additional resources,” said the sponsor, Rep. Debra Heffernan, D-Edgemoor. “Providing an additional layer of funding would help pump more teachers, counselors and services directly into the schools that need it most so that all students have the best opportunity to succeed in life. It’s not enough to just identify the problem, we have to be willing to address the issue head-on.”

The proposal is in the House Education Committee.

Farmland preservation

Another bill seeks to mandate the state fully fund the Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation, which helps preserve farmland and protect it from development. Recommendations created by the General Assembly call for the program to receive $10 million in funding annually, but in recent years the foundation has seen less money as the state’s budget grows tighter.

House Bill 124, as the proposal is designated, is sponsored by Rep. David Wilson, R-Bridgeville. It is the first leg of a planned constitutional amendment that would require $10 million from the realty transfer tax be set aside on a yearly basis.

It is set to be heard in the House Agriculture Committee Wednesday.

Family leave

House Bill 125 deals with maternity and paternity leave. Under the purview of the piece of legislation, all state employees would be able to take 12 weeks of paid leave upon the birth of a child.

Both mothers and fathers would be eligible, and the 12-week leave would be good for one year after the birth. Those who adopt a child younger than 6 also would qualify.

Currently, paid leave is available for state workers only through accrued sick days.

The bill was unveiled at the end of March during a news conference where lawmakers announced a set of bills dealing with women’s issues. It’s sponsored by Rep. Heffernan and is in the House Administration Committee.

Legal tweaks

Another bill would change the parameters slightly around a lawmaker’s arrest. Under the Delaware Constitution, lawmakers cannot be arrested while attending a legislative session or traveling there, except in cases of a felony, act of treason or breaching of the peace. House Bill 135 would make a minor change to that, removing the provision prohibiting an arrest during travel to and from a session.

It waits in the House Administration Committee.

Bills passed

Some notable legislation also has been passed by the General Assembly.

House Bill 69 legalizing telemedicine was passed by both chambers without a single vote in opposition in the past three weeks. It now heads to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 50, which would give parents the right to opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced test, was passed by a 36-3 landslide in the House of Representatives Thursday.

The bill has bipartisan support but is opposed by Gov. Jack Markell, who said he does not believe it is a “good bill.”

He fears opt-out will marginalize low-income students, whose parents often do not have the resources to stay on top of their options. It’s a highly charged issue, with some parents and teachers in one corner and the Department of Education in the other.

The proposal has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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