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Legislative Update - Jan. 15, 2016



The House smacked down an attempt to suspend rules and override Gov. Jack Markell’s veto of a student testing opt-out bill Thursday afternoon.


This most likely signals the end to a battle that’s raged between Markell and members of his own party for the past ten months, with the Smarter Balanced Assessment being the underlying reason.


The vote was 26 to 13 with one absent and another not voting. That’s in stark contrast to the 31 people who supported HB 50 earlier in the summer.


A lot of those shifting votes came from Republicans.


House Minority Whip Deborah Hudson (R-Fairthorne) says GOP members met last night to debate the bill and ultimately decided they couldn’t support it.


“It seemed to us that House Bill 50 was stale and all this time spent on this bill was wrong and that we should’ve been productive and progressive and look for other bills,” said Hudson.


That incensed the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. John Kowalko (D-Newark South).


“I’m shocked. If she felt it was stale I wish she would’ve talked to me because she had six months from the governor’s [veto] to say, ‘John, I think this bill is stale. Let’s rework something.’ That’s an excuse and it’s a poor excuse,” said Kowalko.


About 20 people gathered in front of Legislative Hall before lawmakers gaveled in this afternoon to try and sway their votes, but that failed.


Speakers reiterated that this bill is strictly about parental rights to decide what’s best for their child.


In a sort of olive branch to reach out to them, Markell abandoned Smarter Balanced for 11th graders, shifting to the SAT, which Delaware provides all students for free.


But John Young, a Christina School Board member, says it’s more of a token gift.


“He’s made a completely voluntary test and now suggesting that it’s going to take the place of this one and he’s done it to placate legislators who, frankly, I’m really am hoping today, exercise the intellectual curiosity to see through that ruse and understand that the tests aren’t the issue,” said Young.


Now, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D- Rehoboth) can shuffle the bill around behind the scenes.


Having publicly opposed the veto override in the first place, it’s highly unlikely he would put it anywhere close to the House floor again for the rest of the session.


A few hours after voting it down, Rep. Joe Miro (R-Pike Creek Valley) introduced and the House passed a resolution requiring the state education secretary to propose student opt out legislation by May 1st.


Markell’s corporate income tax reshuffling bill also overwhelmingly passed amid minimal opposition.


Rep. John Kowalko was one of the two ‘no’ votes on the measure, calling it “corporate extortion”.

But proponents, like House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst (D-Delaware City), say the roughly $50 million bill upfront is smaller than what could come to pass if the legislation isn’t passed.


“I think it would be a bigger devastation to us if we’re not finding ways to keep businesses here and then to attract new businesses, that could be a bigger shortfall than what we have currently before us,” said Longhurst.


The bill now needs Senate approval before heading to Markell’s desk.