A new bill would make technical corrections to Delaware's paid leave program.

Paid leave hasn’t started, but changes already suggested

Jarek RutzHeadlines, Government

A new bill would make technical corrections to Delaware's paid leave program.

A new bill would make technical corrections to Delaware’s paid leave program.

Proposed laws shifting who deals with appeals to the state’s new paid leave program, which starts in 2026 drew little comment in Wednesday’s Senate Health and Social Services Committee meeting.

Senate Bill 178, sponsored by Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington and committee chair, makes technical changes to private plans under the Family and Medical Leave Program.

The new program requires Delaware businesses with 25 employers or more to join the program, which is paid for by a .08% tax on employee wages, split between the employee and the employer. Businesses that already have a paid leave program must apply to be exempted from the state program.

When it starts in January 2026, workers will be allowed to apply to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave for childbirths, caring for parents and other family situations. Benefits are capped at 80% of an employee’s salary or $900 per week, whichever is less.

SB 178 revises the appeal process for when the Department of Labor denies an application from a business, so that the hearing is conducted by the secretary of the department instead of the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Appeal Board.

The Appeals Board conducts hearings on denials of individual claims for benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Program. Individuals will not be eligible for these benefits until January 1, 2026. 

That means the board does not need to be established in 2023, and the expertise members need is in areas other than those needed for appeal decisions. 

“The process now will be staff within the Paid Leave Division will make the initial determination and the appeal would then go to the secretary instead of a board,” McBride said, “and then further the entity would have the ability to appeal to the Superior Court from the secretary’s determination.”

This ensures that the state doesn’t essentially impanel a board that has one responsibility and then nothing to do for the foreseeable future, she said.

“We think it’s a good move to not convene a governor-appointed board and have them sit there and potentially do nothing for several years,” said Rahcel Turney, deputy secretary of the Department of Labor. 

Senate committees do not take votes in public, so a decision on the bill typically isn’t known for hours until it is made available on the bill tracker.  It seemed likely to pass, partly because the committee is dominated by Democrats and it’s a Democrat-backed bill.

If released, SB 178 will head to the Senate ready list for floor debates.

Also Wednesday:

  • House Bill 60, sponsored by Rep. Cyndie Romer, D-Newark, aims to help make breast cancer screenings and procedures more affordable. 

The law would require that all insurance policies issued or renewed  include coverage for supplemental and diagnostic breast examinations, at least as favorable as the coverage of annual screening mammograms. 

“The bill is modeled closely off of HB 170 from Texas which passed in 2019,” McBride said. “The Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, the Delaware Department of Insurance and carriers have all been involved in the drafting of this bill and are all supportive.”

The Act covers all group, blanket and individual health insurance policies as well as the state employee healthcare plan and Medicaid. 

If released by committee, the bill will be sent to the Senate ready list. 

  • House Bill 118, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Hensley, R-Odessa, would create a civil citation for people who smoke in a car that also contains someone under the age 18, whether a window is open or not.

Police won’t be able to pull someone over solely for that, Halsey said. It would only be a secondary violation if an officer already is pulling someone over for a different offense. 

MORE ON SMOKING BILL: 4th graders lead charge to stop smoking in private cars

“If you’re in a vehicle, you’re kind of stuck,” he said. Children can’t walk away from the smoke there like they could in an apartment or house.

Hensley gave credit to the fourth grade students at Wilbur Elementary School for coming up with the idea for the bill through their research on the negative effects of secondhand smoke on children. 

Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover, said the state needs to protect young people who cannot protect themselves at such an age. 

If released by committee, HB 118 will head to the Senate floor.

  • Senate Bill 176, sponsored by Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, reimburses up to $1,500 annually for veterinary care expenses paid by the owner for the care of a retired law-enforcement canine. 

Law enforcement representatives testified that police dogs become a part of the officer’s family. Also, many of them are put in dangerous positions causing injuries, which can lead to expensive and consistent veterinarian bills. 

“I had one incident where one of the bad guys stabbed one of our canines right through the head with a butcher knife,” Lawson said. “ That dog survived the stabbing, but was never able to come back on duty again and he died a few years later.”

The bill will cost the state between $10,000 and $15,000 a year, its fiscal note said.

Typically, there are seven to 10 canines up for retirement each year, Lawson said.

If released, SB 176 will be sent to the Senate ready list.

  •  Senate Bill 189, sponsored by Sen. Nicole Poore, D-Delaware City, adds xylazine and its isomers, esters, ethers, salts and salts of isomers, esters and ethers to schedule III of the Delaware Uniform Controlled Substances Act.

The higher the schedule, the less dangerous the drug is considered. Typically, schedule III drugs are categorized as having a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.

Xylazine is typically used as an animal sedative by veterinarians. It is not approved for human consumption, and narcan is not effective in combating the effects of the drug. 

Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Hockessin, pointed out that veterinarians will need to obtain a license in order to possess and use xylazine as a result of this bill. 

SB 189 would expand the ability for the distribution of testing strips to determine the presence of controlled substances. 

Specifically, the bill exempts testing strips from the drug paraphernalia statute and expands the limitations on liability for individuals and organizations that provide a drug testing strip to someone who uses the drug. The goal of this is to reduce the likelihood of that individual experiencing harm. 

If released, SB 189 would be sent to the Senate ready list.

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