Despite four attempts by Republicans to amend it, the mini-Bond bill was voted out of the House Thursday and will head to Gov. John Carney to be signed into law.
Passing the bill usually is a routine matter, will add 17 projects to the state’s Bond and Capital Improvement fund.
Nobody objected to that.
What did draw a lot of heat from Republicans and construction executives was language in the epilogue to Senate Bill 35 to set up a pilot project that said the winning bids on those four projects would need a workforce that include a certain percentage of union workers and minority workers.
Republicans questioned whether the program was designed to favor unions; why the pilot project was included without wider notice to the legislature and others; why the wording didn’t detail how the projects would operate or what percentage of projects; why the pilot programs need to be rushed through with the mini-bond projects were needed immediately; and whether the projects would automatically become state practice.
“What strikes me about this whole process is about the transparency and the public engagement,” said Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown.
She said more than 30% of her constituents are Hispanic or Black and none were asked about or allowed to participate in either forming the language or to testify in a hearing about how it would affect them.
Bond bills are created by legislative committees and don’t go through the normal hearing process that most bills do. They are simply presented in the full House and Senate.
The bill’s wording didn’t even specify exactly what the pilot projects are or how they would operate, Republicans pointed out Thursday night.
Mini-Bond bill epilogue
Cerron Cade, director of the Delaware Office of Management and Budget, said the pilot projects need to be authorized by the legislation before they can be fleshed out.
It was not designed to favor union, he said, but was included in the mini-bond because at least one and likely two of the construction projects will be bid this spring, likely before the 2024 Bond Bill is passed.
Construction executives complained during a Senate debate it was uncommon for non-union contractors to hire union, and vice versa. That would knock non-union shops out of the running for bids, they said.
Bill sponsors insisted that it was and could be done.
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Rep. Lyndon Yearick, R-Camden/Wyoming, the House minority whip said he kept hearing a lot of P words.
“And that’s pilot so far,” he said. “The P word I’d like to bring out is process.”
The bill was not about pro union or anti-union bill, he said.
“It’s about the opportunity for people to have the freedom to bid on a project whether they belong to a union or not,” Yearick said.
This is the ninth year he’s been a part of the mini-Bond bill, he said.
“I’ve never seen a mini-Bond bill go through such a contentious debate process,” he said. “We’re not losing out on anything. It’s about respecting that process of what should be happening.”
The four proposed amendments — each of which Rep. Deb Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, declared unfriendly to the bill — tried to remove the pilot projects, remove certain language so any bids would be handled as they are now, change the language to require workers to be legal residents of Delaware and require every Community Workforce project to include at least one Disadvantaged Business Enterprise as a contractor or subcontractor.
Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek, took a final pot shot at Carney while addressing the chamber at the end of the debate on the bill.
“I just want to make sure we can still have a good working relationship in this body and not let the governor and his administration continue to pull us apart with our constituents,” he said. “This is another example from the Medicare Advantage plan to this on how we’re getting stuck with the bag and our constituents, and the constituents need to pick and choose sides and go against each other because he won’t have the leadership to do this himself.”
The House will now stand in recess until March 7. The month of February and the first days of March will be filled with Joint Finance Committee hearings which start Jan. 31.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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