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Delaware Senate Democrats

Joint Finance Committee funds three of Senate Democrats’ top legislative priorities

May 25, 2023

DOVER – Three of the Delaware Senate Democrats top legislative priorities were funded by the Joint Finance Committee this week, including bills to provide low-income tenants’ with a right to legal representation, protect children and families from exposure to lead, and streamline the First State’s transition to renewable energy sources. 

The funding approved by the budget-writing committee means all three bills are prepared for a final vote before the Legislature recesses on June 30. 

“Funding programs that will keep families in their homes, protect the health and safety of our children and mitigate the impacts of climate change are all huge accomplishments for our Caucus and the residents of Delaware,” Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola said. “I know there are a lot of beneficial programs vying for limited resources to consider, so I want to thank the members of the Joint Finance Committee for working to make sure these initiatives made the final cut and will be included in the operating budget we vote on in June.” 

The Joint Finance Committee (JFC), a 12-member panel of representatives and senators from both parties, voted Tuesday to allocate $1.3 million in next year’s Operating Budget Bill to cover operational costs associated with Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 1, legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend

SS1 for SB 1 would allow the state to contract with one or more nonprofits to offer free legal representation to tenants facing eviction whose household income is less than 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. The bill also would establish a residential eviction diversion program modeled after Delaware’s Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Mediation Program, which has helped more than 62% of participants stay in their homes. 

“The funding allocation approved by JFC this week will be critical in helping our state avoid the immense societal cost we incur when 14 Delaware renters are evicted from their homes on an average day,” Sen. Townsend said. “Under this bill, hundreds of families will be able to avoid the trauma of moving their children from school to school, damage to their personal credit, the loss of property and lost employment.”  

Passed unanimously by the Senate in March, S1 for SB 1 is currently awaiting a final vote in the House. 

JFC on Wednesday also voted to fund two major initiatives in the One-Time Supplemental Appropriations Bill to better protect Delaware children and families from exposure to lead in homes and schools throughout the First State. 

Proposed by Sen. Sarah McBride in May, Senate Bill 9 would create procedures for state health officials to identify and remediate homes that contain exposed lead paint, establish a state-funding mechanism to cover the cost of those repairs, and initiate a process to screen every residential rental property in Delaware for exposed lead paint. JFC this week allocated more than $2.3 million toward the creation of that comprehensive program in the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.  

JFC also allocated $3.8 million in one-time spending to the Delaware Department of Education to install water filters throughout district and charter schools statewide to remove lead from school drinking water. 

“Adding water filters to our schools and creating a comprehensive and ongoing program to remove lead paint from Delaware homes will protect countless families from the risk of serious neurological damage and cognitive harm caused by lead exposure,” said Sen. McBride, chair of the Senate Health & Social Service Committee. “I want to thank Governor Carney and my colleagues on the Joint Finance Committee for not only taking these health concerns seriously, but putting real resources behind our work to solve these issues once and for all.” 

SB 9 is awaiting consideration in the House Health & Human Development Committee. 

Finally, JFC on Tuesday approved a $153 million operating budget for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control that includes plans to strengthen the ability of the State Energy Office to serve as the lead agency on a variety of climate and energy issues. 

First created by the Delaware General Assembly in 2003, the State Energy Office is housed in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Climate, Coastal and Energy Division, where it currently acts as a central repository and clearinghouse for data and information on energy resources and energy policy in Delaware. 

Sponsored by Sen. Stephanie Hansen in May, Senate Bill 7 would expand that role to also include a focus on modernizing our electric grid with additional planning and coordination responsibilities that support clean energy, clean transportation, emerging technologies and energy efficiency. The addition of five new staff positions will be accomplished by reallocating vacant positions already existing within state government. 

“Growing the State Energy Office to meet our future needs can be accomplished within the framework of the budget that the Governor recommended in January,” said Sen. Hansen, chair of the Senate Environment, Energy & Transportation Committee. “I want to thank him, the Office of Management and Budget and the Joint Finance Committee for working to get this done so we can take the next critical step needed to holistically direct Delaware’s overall energy portfolio.” 

The Senate is expected to send SB 7 to the House in June.