Legislative Journal: Gun bill passes while settlement vote is defeated

DOVER — The House of Representatives Thursday narrowly approved a bill that would expand the three-day wait limit on firearm background checks to 30 days.

By a 22-17 vote that fell mostly along party lines, members sent the measure on to the Senate.

Anyone seeking to purchase a gun must undergo a background check. The seller submits the buyer’s information to the FBI, which then runs a check to see if the person is prohibited from having a firearm for one of several reasons, such as having been convicted of a serious crime.

If an answer is not received within three days, the seller is authorized to turn the gun over to the prospective buyer. The bill passed Thursday would change that limit to 30 days.

Main sponsor Rep. Edward Osienski, D-Newark, said the change would not impact most gun buyers, since 92 percent of background checks are completed in minutes.

Democratic supporters of the measure have called the three-day time a “loophole” and said the legislation could prevent guns from falling into the wrong hands.

But Republicans objected, questioning the benefit and the constitutionality.

Rep. Kevin Hensley said the alleged shooter in the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, killings would have been able to obtain a gun “even if there had been a three-, seven-, 10- or even a 30-day waiting period,” because information was incorrectly entered into the background check system.

Rick Armitage, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, protested the bill as unconstitutional because it overrides the federal three-day period, although a House attorney for the Democratic caucus testified otherwise.

The legislation will go to a Senate committee.

Settlement vote defeated

Senate Republicans are threatening to vote against the annual budget bill after a resolution questioning the constitutionality of a legislative committee’s fund allocations failed.

The chamber, by a vote along party lines, defeated a motion to review the Joint Finance’s Committee approval of a pot of money to be used mostly for housing-related initiatives.

The General Assembly’s budget-writing committee voted last month to approve a plan for funds held by the Department of Justice after 2014 settlements with Bank of America and Citigroup over alleged mortgage-related improprieties, but Republicans argue the committee does not have the power to allocate money.

A resolution debated Thursday would have sent the vote to the state Supreme Court for an official opinion.

During a discussion on the floor, Senate Democrats argued Attorney General Matt Denn’s approval of the plan was all that was needed. Mr. Denn proposed the initial plan for spending the $29 million, which JFC revised.

“I would even suggest that the attorney general did not have to come back to us to disperse this money, but I think as a courtesy he did that because I think he realized life would be a whole lot easier if he had some support for what he was proposing to do, but I strongly disagree that only we can disperse this money,” Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, said. “There are pots of money all spread throughout the government that we never, ever have a say in how they’re dispersed, and I believe this is one of those funds.”

JFC Chairman Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington said if the Supreme Court was to find the committee’s allocation unconstitutional, it would limit the state’s ability to dole out future settlement funds.

Members of the minority caucus took a diametrically opposed stance.

“The Constitution is pretty clear about money that’s expended – public money – needs to go through this building, and if it goes outside of the government it needs to be a three-quarters vote, and again, just to verify, no one’s accusing anybody of anything, but the perception of the attorney general approving the attorney general’s opinion for money for the attorney general is probably not a great policy in terms of building trust in the public,” Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, said.

Lawmakers voted down the resolution 11-9, with one senator absent.

Sen. Gregory Lavelle, R-Sharpley, said in a text message afterward Republicans would mull any other options available, including threatening to withhold approval of the budget bill in June.

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