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What's in store for Delaware's next legislative session?

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers are pushing for some major initiatives in the upcoming legislative session that starts next month.

Major reforms were won by Delaware’s progressive lawmakers during the last legislative session, such as a $15 minimum wage, new gun control laws and criminal justice reform.

Senate President Pro Temp Dave Sokola (D-Newark) and State Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden (D-Wilmington) offered a preview last week of the upcoming session.

Meeting with the Rotary Club of Wilmington, Sokola says there’s more in store for next year, including a push for paid family leave by State Sen. Sarah McBride, legalizing recreational marijuana and further gun control bills.

Sokola says driving these progressive policies are the many fresh, young faces coming into the General Assembly.

“There’s been a whole lot of turnover in the legislature in the last three elections,” he said. “And as an old guy, I say that’s a good thing; because I was pulling teeth to get some people to believe these things. It took me 15 years to get full day kindergarten.”

Sokola says the amount of young parents also entering the General Assembly is helping to drive change to increase funding for early childhood education and childcare in the state, an issue he’s been passionate about since entering office in the 90’s.

Education reform was also a priority for the lawmakers.

Sokola says the state should continue to improve student success in Wilmington, noting a new school hasn't been build in the city for decades.

“This is embarrassing — that we haven’t built a new school in the City of Wilmington,” said Sokola. “Now Bayard is gonna be significantly renovated and Bancroft is gonna be rebuilt; and that’s good news. But we’ve gotta make sure those priorities are understood.”

Sokola says Gov. John Carney has been a great ally in the process, working directly with lawmakers and stakeholders in education to improve outcomes and boost funding in the city, working to up the percentage the state pays into major capital improvement projects versus the schools.

Bolden adds after Wilmington was divided into five school districts, performance never improved.

Carney is currently trying to sell his plan to fix that without creating a new district. He wants a new collaborative among Wilmington area districts to give city students a greater chance to succeed, and build partnerships between school districts.

Sokola says improving educational outcomes, especially in Wilmington area schools is going to be a team effort between state lawmakers, Carney and other education leaders. He hopes renovating and rebuilding old Wilmington schools isn't the end of the story.

Both lawmakers say other priorities include legalizing recreational marijuana, which lawmakers tried to do this year, but failed after a disagreement between moderate Democrats and Black lawmakers.

Bolden says many of those kinks have been worked out, and she hopes that bill can finally see a vote on the floor.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Corrected: December 6, 2021 at 4:11 PM EST
This story has been updated to correct a misspelling for State Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden's name and include clarification from State Sen. Sokola surrounding Gov. Carney's role in education reform.
Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.