Senate leader postpones minimum wage floor vote

DOVER — Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride’s decision to hold legislation that would raise the minimum wage to $15 has implications that go beyond the numbers.

Filed at the end of May, the bill sparked concerns in some quarters of a repeat of the stalemate that delayed the end of session in 2018.

But, fortunately for many, including business owners and those who simply want to see the General Assembly end at a more reasonable hour this year, it now appears the bill will not get a floor vote this year.

Approached Wednesday a few hours after the bill’s first committee hearing, Sen. McBride, a New Castle Democrat, initially said he was not sure whether the measure would be debated by the full chamber before the legislature breaks when the month ends.

After another question, he changed his tune, saying it is unlikely the bill will be voted on this year.

Although the proposal was released from one committee, it has been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee because it carries a cost to the state.

That news came as a surprise to the committee chairman, Sen. Harris McDowell. Asked if he expected to run the bill in committee Wednesday, the final committee day of the year, the Wilmington Democrat said he was unaware it had been placed there.

The decision to postpone a vote, while surely disappointing to organized labor and other supporters of the bill, comes as a relief to many — including some Democrats.

Why? Just look at last year.

On June 30, the final regularly scheduled day of the 149th General Assembly, Democrats attempted to ram through legislation hiking the minimum wage from $8.25 to $9.25. With the Democratic Party controlling both chambers, the bill was approved despite Republican outrage.

But the GOP got a chance to have its say, withholding votes on the capital bond bill less than an hour after the House sent the minimum wage measure to Gov. John Carney. Because the bond bill requires a three-fourths supermajority, Democrats needed Republican support, giving the GOP a powerful bargaining chip.

Such opportunities are rare for Delaware Republicans these days, but GOP legislators demonstrated they know how to play their cards.

After several hours of negotiations, during which time speculation ran rampant about the possibility of legislators failing to approve a spending plan in time for the second consecutive year, the parties reached a compromise. As part of that deal, legislators instituted a lower training and youth wage before sending the bond bill through, allowing everyone to (mercifully) head home.

David McBride

Gov. Carney acknowledged last week another stalemate could be possible should Democrats try to run the minimum wage bill.

“Obviously, you’re always concerned in June about issues that are very emotional where there are significant philosophical differences that members would use a vote on the bond bill or grant-in-aid bill because they require supermajority votes to influence the decision on another piece of legislation,” he said, although the governor noted he is more worried about properly implementing an increase in the minimum wage.

Gov. Carney, a Democrat, does not support the bill, which would bump the wage floor up to $15 in five increments. That first hike would come Jan. 1, just three months after a previously scheduled hike goes into effect.

Republican leaders did not confirm they would hold up the bond bill should Democrats try again to raise the minimum wage, but they didn’t rule it out.

“When charting strategy, the worst thing you can do is tell the other side what you’re going to do, but what I can say is every action has a reaction. I’ll leave it at that,” House Minority Leader Danny Short, a Seaford Republican, said.

Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, a Republican from Ocean View, said Wednesday his caucus had not yet discussed the nuclear option but planned to.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat, declined to speculate about the possibility of the minimum wage legislation holding up vital spending bills because the proposal is still in the Senate.

Legislative action
With only seven regularly scheduled legislative days remaining this year, the General Assembly is trying to get through as many bills as possible before breaking for the year.

Last week, the Senate approved legislation that would prohibit pharmacies and insurance companies from overcharging for prescription drugs, teach students about consent and move the state one time zone to the east.

Currently, when a patient’s copay exceeds the total cost of his or her medication, insurers and pharmacy benefits managers can keep the difference. House Bill 24 would outlaw such the practice, often called a clawback.

“Pharmacy clawbacks have no place in our healthcare system, and I am proud that we are taking a substantial step forward in eliminating them with HB 24. When insurance companies and benefits managers pocket profits for prescription drugs the patient suffers,” Rep. Andria Bennett, a Dover Democrat, said in a statement.

“The rising cost of prescription drugs force Delawareans to make difficult choices every single day: Do I pick up my diabetes medication or pay my rent? They do not need additional, stealthy costs tacked onto their medication.”

The measure is before the governor for his signature.

Senate Bill 78 would require schools to add age-appropriate lessons about consent. The bill defines consent as “the unambiguous, voluntary, and freely given agreement by all participants in each physical act in the course of sexual activity, including respect for personal boundaries.”

The measure, which now goes to the House, is aimed at reducing sexual violence.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of fostering these difficult conversations. We, frankly, should be shining a light on them,” House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat, said in a statement.

“Encouraging this educational programming in schools breaks down the barriers and stigma associated with consent, and empowers youth with the knowledge of respectful, healthy and appropriate relationships. Incorporating these lessons beginning in 7th grade and into high school sets a strong foundation for the future.”

The time zone proposal, Senate Bill 73, would request the U.S. Department of Transportation move the First State into the Atlantic Time Zone, essentially moving the state into permanent daylight saving time. The measure would only go into effect, however, if Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania pass identical legislation.

“This might seem like a trivial effort to some, but there is a growing body of evidence that these clock changes are contributing to some serious health risks, including spikes in heart attacks, strokes and pedestrian fatalities,” Sen. McBride said in a statement.

“My colleagues and I here in the Delaware Senate – and in legislatures around the country – believe the time has come for Delaware and the rest of the nation to have a conversation about whether this social experiment still makes sense from a public policy perspective.”

The bill is now in the House.

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