The Senate has approved $1.4 billion in capital improvement projects, along with a bill that would ban the LGBTQ panic defense, and a bill that adds more funding for the suicide crisis hotline.
Senate Bill 160, sponsored by Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton, would allocate $1,409,448,938 to address capital improvement projects across the state through this year’s bond bill.
Walsh said the bill will have a positive impact across the entire state.
“Putting people to work and preparing brick and mortar projects here that definitely all our committees should be proud, “ Walsh said. “I think it’s a great package of bills that benefits all of our communities throughout the state.”
Sen. David Wilson, R-Lincoln, said during Wednesday’s debate that he was happy to be a part of the process and feels the whole state benefited from the bill.
“At the end of the day, it’s about Delaware,” Wilson said. “And it’s about a good bond bill, and I can honestly say that I’m proud to be a part of it this year because we worked together for what was good for New Castle, Kent and Sussex.”
The bill includes:
- $354.2 million to complete road projects statewide.
- $200 million for new school construction projects in the Appoquinimink, Brandywine, Colonial, Milford, New Castle County Vo-Tech and Sussex Tech school districts.
- $177 million for deferred maintenance, roof replacement and other capital improvement projects at state facilities.
- $60 million for capital needs at the University of Delaware, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College.
- $54 million for continued investment in economic development projects through the Strategic Fund, the Site Readiness Fund, Lab Space, the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Fund and the new Sports Tourism Capital Fund.
- $45 million for the Community Reinvestment Fund supporting nonprofits and municipalities.
- $44 million for maintenance projects at Delaware’s correctional facilities.
- $34 million for the new Kent and Sussex Family Courthouses.
- $27 million for upgrades and renovations of the Customs House Facility in Wilmington.
- $24 million for Wilmington area projects, including the Riverfront Development Corporation, Frawley Stadium and various park and neighborhood improvements.
- $21 million for the new Troop 4 in Georgetown.
- $21 million for Clean and Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Funds.
- $20 million for statewide park improvements, including Bellevue State Park, White Clay Creek Nature Center, Killens Pond Water Park, the Fort Miles Museum, Lums Pond, Fort Delaware, a Cape Henlopen boardwalk project and Trap Pond dock repairs.
- $17.5 million for projects in the City of Dover, City of Newark, Town of Newport, and City of Seaford.
- $16.5 million for statewide library construction.
- $15 million in minor capital improvement funding for maintenance projects at public school buildings.
- $12 million for beach replenishment and dredging needs.
- $10 million for statewide drainage improvements.
- $9.1 million for the School Safety and Security Fund.
The bill and now heads to the House for consideration.
Related Story: General Assembly passes largest bond bill in history
House Substitute 2 for House Bill 142, sponsored by Rep. Eric Morrison, D-Glasgow, would not allow a defendant to claim they reacted violently when they realized that someone else was of a certain sexual orientation or gender identity.
While the bill faced opposition in the House from some Republicans, in the Senate it passed unanimously with the full support of all Senators present.
Eric Buckson, R-Dover, said he supports the bill because it prevents the issue from happening in Delaware.
Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said he was supporting the bill because he is opposed to people being able to use this defense, even if he doesn’t think a Delaware judge would allow it.
“To use something like this as a defense is unconscionable,” Pettyjohn said. “And I’m really glad we’ve never had something like this happen in Delaware. I wouldn’t expect it out of Delawareans.”
Sen. Sarah McBride, D-Wilmington, a transgender woman, said she appreciates Republicans supporting the bill and making it bipartisan.
“Thank you to my colleagues and my friends,” McBride said. “That is a beautiful statement. I believe that this kind of violence has no place in our state of neighbors. And it means a lot to me that you all would join this. So thank you very much. Other states, this has fortunately been bipartisan, and I’m incredibly proud that we will make clear that this is a bipartisan issue.”
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.
Also on Wednesday, the Senate approved House Substitute 2 for House Bill 160, sponsored by House Majority Leader Rep. Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear. It would create a funding source for crisis intervention services by adding a 60 cent per line per month surcharge and a 60 cent fee on prepaid lines.
The bill exempts state government offices or agencies, quasi-state government agencies, school districts and charter schools from the surcharge.
Retailers will keep 3% of the surcharge and give the rest on a quarterly basis to the Department of Finance, Division of Revenue, which will in turn put the money into the Behavioral Health Crisis Intervention Services Fund.
Money from the fund will be used to support the state’s 988 crisis hotline number, which was established by the federal government in 2020 but left to each state to decide how to implement it.
The fiscal note estimates the surcharge will generate $9,430,112 annually, which is based on previous collections of the E911 surcharges.
Sen. Nicole Poore, D-Delaware City, said the hotline improvements are needed.
“Despite the best efforts of stakeholders in the behavioral health field, Delaware’s system of crisis care is fragmented, underfunded, and has gaps in many resources,” Poore said. ”Last year, we lost 537 Delawareans to overdose. This year we’ve already lost approximately 196 lives.”
Pettyjohn asked Joanna Champney, division director of the Delaware Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health at the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services, where 988 calls go.
Champney said adult callers go to Contact Lifeline, Delaware’s lifeline certified provider, and child and teen callers go to Delaware Guidance. Federal guidance also requires a text and chat function which Delaware is not able to handle, so those callers are directed to a federal call center.
For people with out of state numbers who live in Delaware, Champney said federal call operators can either patch callers through to a local call center or to a federal one.
Buckson said he supported the idea but thought 60 cents is a lot more than the state should be charging.
“I’m not here to discuss the merits,” he said. “What I am going to ask is the why. 60’s big. Would it make more sense to lower it.”
Poore said calls are expected to increase by 65% over the next five years, and they need the funding to hire staff.
“The reality is we have to be creative in how we’re going to do this. We basically lifted what we’ve done in 911, and mirrored it in 988,” Poore said. “Yes, this will create millions of dollars. But…we need to have someone there when the call goes. We need someone to respond, and we need somewhere to go.”
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk after it had passed the House 28 to 11.
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