Stalemate over minimum wage increase forces marathon General Assembly finale
A battle over a hike to the state’s minimum wage kept lawmakers in Dover overnight, dragging final day of the legislative session well into July 1.
A bill phasing in a $1 increase to the minimum wage over two years – lifting it to $9.25/hour by October 2019 - passed both chambers. It passed the State Senate by a one-vote margin, 11-10, Saturday evening, before it cleared the House by a 21-18 vote early Sunday.
But House Republicans were infuriated by its passage in that chamber at 3:50 a.m. Sunday, complaining such significant legislation should not be considered under suspension of rules in the middle of the night.
In response, House Minority Leader Danny Short (R-Seaford) announced GOP members would withhold voting on the state’s $816 million capital spending plan in protest, saying Republicans felt they had to “take a stand” The Bond Bill needs a three-fourths majority or 31 votes to pass. It received 23 when a vote was taken around 4:30 a.m.
“It’s not to be taken as a threat, but as a statement of the fact that the citizens of this state need to be engaged and our statement will be cast by the votes we might take subsequent to this particular bill," he said. "Sorry to do that."
The impasse prompted hours of closed-door negotiations before a deal was struck get the Bond Bill passed. It allowed the minimum wage hike to remain, but also passed a bill from Republican State Rep Mike Ramone (R-Pike Creek Valley) creating a youth wage and a training wage. That allows employers to pay 50 cents below minimum wage to workers under 18 or workers over 18 during their first 3 months on the job.
With that second bill in place, the House and Senate each passed the Bond bill without opposition and the session came to a close shortly after 8:30 a.m. Sunday.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth) says sometimes disagreements happen during the hectic final hours of session.
“They talk about making sausage or scrapple up here and it’s ugly, it’s ugly at times," he said. "But you have to look at the end result is we got a Bond bill, we got a Grant-in-Aid package, we got a minimum wage increase for all low-income workers out there. We got a lot of the bills done that we needed to get done."
The Grant-in-Aid budget for nonprofits, volunteer fire companies and various other community organizations ending up being a $52 million dollar funding package, restoring the 20% across the board cut made a year ago to help overcome the state's budget shortfall. It passed the state Senate just before 3 a.m. Sunday. The House followed suit shortly after 7 a.m. when it returned to work as negotiations on the Bond Bill continued.
A compromise casino relief bill also reached the finish line Saturday. That measure cuts the state’s share slots and table game revenue and suspends the suspends the table gaming license fee, giving the state’s three casinos an additional $11.4 million next year and $16.8 million after that.