Just a few days into the new state legislative session, state Sen. Gerald Hocker (R-20th) resumed his customary “Coffee’s on Me” events on Jan. 21 to hear citizen concerns.
In conjunction with his focus on job-growth issues, Hocker described his other big project: Senate Bill 74. Normally, the legislature writes the law. But when state agencies create regulations, Hocker said, SB 74 would require those agencies to write regulatory impact statements, “to spell out who it’s regulating … the economic value and costs.”
The goal, he said, is to encourage transparency, to ensure that anyone proposing rules can properly assess the impact and to keep the General Assembly informed — especially those with oversight responsibilities.
However, the bill has been stuck in the Sunset Committee since May of 2013, despite having bipartisan sponsors and support in both chambers.
“We can’t get it out of committee because this administration doesn’t want to do anything to stop power of state agencies,” Hocker accused.
He said Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia M. Blevins (D-7th) “was told not to let it out” by her caucus.
“With the new ratings, maybe they’ll take another look at it,” Hocker said, referencing labor statistics that place Delaware around the bottom of national economic recovery statistics — a situation he said he feels the legislature has done little to improve.
Hocker said on Tuesday that he was drafting a letter expressing his frustration at the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), which Hocker said Delaware had been forced to accept.
He said the goal of the initiative was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, with the fees collected going to help energy-efficient projects — which it has done, in part. But Hocker said the related collection caps could rise by $60 annually per family, although much of the funding remains unspent.
“That needs to stop. That’s not needed,” he said.
He’ll collect as many legislative signatures on the letter as possible, he said, and send it to every media outlet, in an effort to prevent further RGGI reach.
Hocker also said he feels the state insurance exchange and employee compensation will both kill jobs. From the early 1970s to now, he said, Delaware has lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
As for minimum wage increases (SB 6), Hocker said he doesn’t know of any business actually paying less than the minimum wage. According to Hocker, there aren’t many minimum wage jobs in the first place, yet retirees and low income-families will be hit by increases in the minimum wage, he argued, because prices go up and they can afford less.
On a related note, “I see no reason for me to fight Allen Harim coming to Millsboro,” he said, despite hearing concerns that it would only bring lower-paying jobs. “That’s not true.”
Hocker said he had recently heard from Mountaire’s CEO that they could easily take on “300 people at $13.10 per hour, with benefits, and people would not take those jobs.”
Meanwhile, there’s talk about cutting unemployment benefits.
“I’m not against paying unemployment for those who can’t work,” Hocker said. “I’m against paying it for those who won’t.”
Finally, in regard to overall regulation, “As a businessperson, my wife and I were able to take a good opportunity and expand on it. A regular couple could not do it today,” he said, adding that, after 43 years, his last loan was the hardest to pay off. “It’s not pleasant anymore.”
In other topics of discussion:
• The Route 26 Mainline project has begun, with lane closures expected to have begun, although Hocker on Tuesday expected a delay with the incoming mid-week snowstorm.
“We’ve got a lot to go through. It’s not going be pleasant,” he said. “We have great alternate routes. [For] Route 54 they did not. They had to sit.”
A constituent recommended that people sign up for regular email alerts at www.SR26.deldot.gov.
When he joined the legislature, Hocker said, then-Sen. George Bunting had already passed a resolution to study Route 113, and Hocker requested East-West studies for Routes 54, 26 and 24, the last of which “probably should have been first.” He also said Route 26 should have continued after the Bethany Beach section was completed years ago. Since then, property values jumped and land acquisition costs more than construction costs.
• Does Delaware need more casinos?
“I’m on the record saying, ‘No,’” Hocker responded. “The three we have now are having financial issues, so why split the pie now?”
• As for legalizing marijuana, Hocker said it’s already legal in Delaware for medicinal use, and he’s “anxious to see what the governor will say.”
The State has not yet implemented the distribution system included in the law when medical marijuana use was legalized in 2012, but officials have stated that they planned to issue a permit to a State-authorized compassion center to begin growing medical marijuana on July 1, 2014. Neighboring Maryland followed suit with legalizing medical use last fall, but its system is also still being set up.
Legalizing recreational use in Maryland, with a similar tax system to the existing alcohol sales system, is also currently being proposed. Although it can increase State revenue, “I’m not sure they look at cost of that revenue,” said Hocker. As an employer, he said, most employee infractions result from lifting prescription drugs to feed a habit. “I don’t think … marijuana’s going to help.”
• “House Bill 88 is dead. It will be rewritten the way it should be,” said Hocker of the proposal to authorize removal of firearms from the possession someone deemed mentally ill. The bill was defeated in the Senate, with some saying they considered it a “gun grab based on mental illness.”
Hocker said Delaware already has legislation regarding mental illness and firearms, and HR 88 “did nothing to help the patient.” Meanwhile, he said, he was concerned people suffering from mental illness or related concerns would not go to doctors, who would have been required to report most mental illness to the authorities.
• In regard to sea-level rise, Hocker said SB 74 could prevent potential regulations from getting out of hand. Anyway, Hocker said, since his childhood he hasn’t seen the water level rise on his family’s 100-plus-year-old riverfront property. He said storm preparedness appears to be a bigger issue than sea-level rise.
• Surprised that no one broached the subject, Hocker discussed the departure of State Treasurer Chip Flowers’ deputy, Erika Benner, who left that position amidst allegations that she used her work credit card for personal purchases.
If Flowers did the same thing, Hocker said, the legislature should begin discussing impeachment. If not, he suggested the public will still vote someone else into office.
Hocker said Flowers “stuck up for his assistant” and told him there’s another side to the story, which the senator said “needs to come out in a hurry” if it’s true.
“A complete audit is ongoing, so [the auditor] can’t say a whole lot about it,” Hocker said.
• Hocker refused to comment on competition for his grocery and convenience store business, particularly traffic patterns at Ocean View’s incoming Royal Farms.
• Hocker said he was surprised to hear a topic never broached with him before: human trafficking. A Bethany Beach resident said the resort area has a transient population and was concerned about the risk of “modern-day slavery. … It affects all of us. We all have children.”
Hocker said he would research the matter. She recommended visiting the website at www.sharedhope.org, which gave Delaware a “D” grade for efforts to reduce human trafficking, including not having a task force to deal with the issue.
Hocker concluded the event by saying he “doesn’t try to pass empty laws” in large quantity. However, he encouraged people to approach him if they have ideas.
“I’ll talk to you about it. If I feel you’re correct, I’ll go” forward with some action, he said.
Hocker reminded the crowd that state Rep. Ron Gray (R-38th), his successor in that role, will host a Coffee’s on Me on Thursday, Jan. 30, at 8:30 a.m. at Hocker’s Deli.