DOVER, Del. — Republican lawmakers began the year’s legislative session Tuesday by introducing a bill to revise Delaware’s prevailing wage law, an issue that drew partisan bickering and a budget stalemate at the end of last year’s session.
Under a GOP bill, the prevailing wage would be based on payroll information provided to the Department of Labor, rather than employer surveys.
Republicans says the prevailing wage law, which sets pay scales — often driven by union wages — for laborers on public works projects, unnecessarily drives up taxpayer costs on government construction projects. Republicans have said that the survey data used to establish prevailing wage rates is unreliable.
Last year’s legislative session went into overtime amid disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over the prevailing wage and proposed tax increases. After lawmakers ended the regular legislative session without passing a budget and reconvened in an extraordinary session, a budget compromise quickly fell into place. It came after Democrats gave up their insistence on raising personal income taxes and Republicans agreed to drop demands for reforms to the prevailing wage law.
Democratic Gov. John Carney said Tuesday that he’s optimistic that Democrats and Republicans can work together this year and get done on time.
Of last year’s session, he said, “We could have done better.”
Carney kicked off the new session by announcing his support for a bill that would provide state employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child, starting Jan. 1, 2019.
Legislative analysts last year estimated the cost to taxpayers at about $2.5 million a year.
“Obviously, there is a fiscal impact here,” Carney said. “It’s well worth it. It’s an investment in our employees and it’s an investment in strong families … It’s an investment, I think, that will pay off over time.”
In other action Tuesday, House and Senate members approved a resolution extending the due date of the final report from a task force studying marijuana legalization from Jan. 31 to Feb. 28. The move comes amid uncertainty about the ramifications of legalizing recreational marijuana use in Delaware, including concerns about people driving under its influence.
Fueling the uncertainty is a decision by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind an Obama-era policy that cleared the way for several states to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use.
Asked Tuesday about the future of marijuana in Delaware, which has two existing medical marijuana dispensaries and two more set to open this year, Carney simply said “I don’t know.”
Carney said his legislative priorities will be the state budget, growing Delaware’s economy, and improving public education.
“My biggest focus this year will be to make sure that we don’t budget into one-time revenues,” he said, adding that officials must continue working to ensure long-term sustainability within state budgeting process.