New legislation paves the way for Dover Mall access road

An aerial photo shows the Dover Mall from the intersection of U.S. 13. Mall owners want to develop 83 acres behind the mall with direct access from Del. 1. Legislation was filed Wednesday that would seek to amend the Delaware code to allow special financing districts, among other changes. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Five bills introduced Wednesday would further a concept aimed at revitalizing the Dover Mall.

Rep. William Carson

The owners of the mall are pushing a plan that would build an access road off of Del. 1 connecting directly to the mall, with the goal of boosting foot traffic and bringing more stores to the shopping center.

However, the Department of Transportation would not begin work on the road for years, and so supporters have proposed a public-private partnership.

Under the partnership, the road — which is estimated to cost $31 million — would be built with money from newly constructed tolls and would then be turned over to the state.

While Delaware law mentions public-private partnerships, supporters of the mall redesign believe the concept has never been used before.

The five newly filed proposals would authorize the city of Dover and Kent County to take out bonds for transportation projects and pay the debt service. New Castle County and the city of Wilmington are currently allowed to use such funding mechanisms.

“In these difficult budget times we have to look for creative solutions to move Delaware forward and bolster local economies,” main sponsor Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna, said in a statement.

“This one-of-a-kind partnership could become a model for the state at a time where we need transportation projects funded, but our state revenues are lacking.”

According to John Paradee, a lawyer representing the Dover Mall’s owners, the 35-year-old mall “is in jeopardy” and needs changes to draw more customers. The road, supporters say, would change that by providing direct access from Del. 1 and eliminating travelers using U.S. 13.

Correctional officer pensions

Since an inmate uprising killed one correctional officer at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center last month, the Correctional Officers Association of Delaware has been pleading for assistance from lawmakers.

Legislation that would move the length of service required for a pension from 25 years to 20 years for correctional officers, a proposal union President Geoff Klopp described as “one of the puzzle pieces to make the compensation the appropriate compensation package,” failed to make it out of committee.

Although members of the Senate Finance Committee — who include the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna — seemed supportive of the proposal, it stalled because it would bind budget-writers.

“This bill as it’s written is a de facto amendment to the current budget and as such cannot be considered until after the new budget has been passed and signed by the current governor,” committee chair Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington, said.

Passing the bill would mean the budget was being crafted in “piecemeal” fashion, he said afterward.

The bill would apply not just to correctional officers but to everyone who falls into the category of a peace officer, including members of Capitol Police, the Fire Marshal and Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement agents.

Most law enforcement officers already can retire after 20 years, meaning the bill would create a consistent standard.

The proposal could be included in the budget when lawmakers draft it in June, but Mr. Klopp said he believes officers cannot wait that long.

“The longer we continue to do nothing the closer we get to making history in Delaware and not in a good way,” he said.

New primary date and expanded absentee voting

Legislation to allow no-excuse absentee voting and move the primary election to April was sent to the House floor, one step in the road toward passage.

The no-excuse absentee voting was released from the House Administration Committee on party lines, and it is all but certain to face strong Republican opposition in the House.

Changing the date of the primary, however, has received a much more enthusiastic response, with bipartisan support.

The bill to open up absentee voting would remove provisions that an absentee ballot can only be obtained if someone cannot vote in person because of military service, vacation, an illness, a disability, work commitments or religious beliefs

It is identical to 2013 and 2015 bills.

“Forty-five years ago, maybe it made sense. It does not make sense today,” main sponsor Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, said.

Opponents of expanded absentee voting often cite concerns about voter fraud.

However, state Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove said she is aware of only one case of voter fraud that has occurred in a Delaware election.

Thirty-seven states offer no-excuse absentee voting, early voting or voting by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The proposal to alter the primary date would move it from the second Tuesday after the first Monday in September to the fourth Tuesday in April. That’s when the presidential primary currently takes place.

Consolidating primaries would save about $1 million in years with a presidential election. The change would take effect in 2020.

A nearly identical bill passed the House with ease last year but failed in the Senate.

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