When the Delaware Legislative Session begins on Jan. 11, one of the bills that will go before lawmakers will be Senate Bill 1, the Healthy Delaware Families Act.

It seeks to create a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program that would allow employees to take off work, with pay, for up to 12 weeks for reasons including personal illness, because they are responsible for caring for a sick family member, to bond with a new child, because of domestic violence or due to a family member’s military deployment.

Among lawmakers concerned about how the bill would impact small businesses is state Rep. Ron Gray (R-38th), who said that if a business only had three employees, “What happens if one of them is off 12 weeks?”

“I don’t know how that’s going to go. We’ll see,” Gray said, speaking at the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs & Issues meeting earlier this month, held at Signatures restaurant near Selbyville. With him at the event were state Sen. Gerald Hocker (R-20th) and state Rep. Rich Collins (R-41st).

“It’s a little discouraging at times. In general, lawmakers want to do something good for their constituents. I enjoy being a state representative. I am focused on the mission of helping others and I get along well with the Democrats,” Gray said, adding that his perspective differs from Collins.’

“Rich is a tough act to follow,” he said with a smile, drawing laughter from the audience.

“I’ll meet you out in the parking lot after this meeting,” Collins joked.

Hocker called SB1 “a small-business killer and a bad bill” and said he hopes that, if it passes, it will have amendments to make it easier on business owners.

“It’s a terrible bill,” Hocker asserted. “I hate to even see it come before us.”

Gray said he hoped to the amount of time an employee could be off would be reduced to nine weeks.

“It is a killer of small business,” he said, agreeing with Hocker. “How do you keep the country going?” he asked.

Collins said he was worried that if the bill passes, a teacher would be off work for one-third of a school year and said he was told schools have “no qualified substitute teachers.”

Few legislators are businesspeople Hocker added, “and it’s really showing in what we’re passing.”

State Rep. Ruth Briggs Kings (R-37th), who didn’t attend the breakfast meeting, later told the Coastal Point she opposes, and will not support, SB1.

“It’s just too much,” she said.

“It would be much more expensive to the employer than the estimates, especially when you have spouses and each of them has the same employer. They could both take off 12 weeks of paid leave. It becomes burdensome in a tight labor market where we are. Who is going to do the work? How does that impact business?

“In the restaurant industry, they are already working with half the staff. Those who are in favor say it will help with retention, but in my experience in high-level human resources, once they take that leave, it’s difficult to get them to return. Some of them know they aren’t coming back but they don’t tell you that. They don’t want to lose that 12-week benefit,” she said.

Small-business owners “would have to decide, ‘Am I going to hire somebody else or what am I going to do for this mandate?’ There were some things added to try to appease those who don’t support it. The bill will have to be recrafted. I will be looking for a totally new amendment. As it is written, it is fraught with a lot of issues,” she said.

Hocker said he also won’t support a bill seeking to allow recreational marijuana use by adults.

“Marijuana is a gateway drug, and it leads to other things,” he said. “Some people will tell you it isn’t a gateway drug, but it is,” he argued. “I have seen it with employees and in my own family. I don’t know of a police officer that supports this bill,” he added.

“Any good employer doesn’t want his employees to be high, but maybe they were high a week and a half ago and they’re fine now. It’s hard enough to get people to work,” Gray said.

CBD products, which are derived from the marijuana plant but generally do not contain detectable amounts of THC, help many people, he said, reasoning, “I think we still have to work on this bill.”

Collins, who encouraged taxpayers to read and understand bills, said he has noticed “a lot of people in the country have a tremendous sense of unease” and said he is upset “with how the government has taken over our lives and is the enemy of capitalism today.”

He said the coronavirus vaccination mandate is burdening small businesses and will affect more than 80 million employees.

“We keep adding red tape,” he said, comparing legislation to drugs. “Every drug has a little bit of poison in it, and so does every bill that comes out,” he said.

His parents were both Democrats, he noted, but he choose the Republican party “so big government didn’t rule my life,” he said.

“The news won’t tell you what’s going on,” he said, adding that he feels Gov. John Carney has too much power.

“We have given the bureaucrats too much power over us,” he said, adding that he opposes the mandate requiring school children to wear face masks in class to protect them from contracting and spreading the coronavirus.

“It is now permanent. They just finished a hearing to make it permanent. Your children will wear a mask to school even if there is never another COVID case again,” he said.

Carney extended the state’s school mask mandate until Feb. 8 recently, as the existing requirement was due to expire and cases have been on the rise again. He said he hopes another extension will not be needed.

“You’d be surprised what they can do,” Collins said. “The lack of knowledge of what your government does is absolutely astounding.”

Hocker recently wrote to Carney, objecting to continuing to mandate face masks and saying a doctor who had come into his store convinced him masks are “mostly useless and a feel-good thing.”

The education system, he said, “needs to be revamped,” with teachers, parents and local residents running the schools and not the Delaware Department of Education.

“We had parents we were scared of if we did anything wrong,” he said to laughter. “Now, you can’t read their signatures when you hire them, because they don’t know cursive writing. At the store, we can’t have multiple costs, like three lemons for $1 because they can’t figure it out. If they don’t have that calculator, they can’t figure it out. I don’t know what math is being taught. They can’t do it without a calculator,” he said.

Hocker and his wife have owned G&E Hocker grocery stores for 50 years.

Concerning clean waterways, Hocker said dredging vital, especially to rejuvenate marshes and bays.

The 2022 legislative session will continue through June 30.

The Delaware General Assembly is a bicameral legislature, meaning it is divided into two assembles. The Delaware Senate has 21 senators, and the Delaware House of Representatives has 41 representatives.

The General Assembly meetings at Legislative Hall in Dover and convenes the second Tuesday of January on odd-numbered years. A second session convenes in even-numbered years. With 62 seats, the Delaware General Assembly is the second-smallest state legislature in the country. Alaska is the smallest, with 60 seats.

Staff Reporter

Veteran news reporter Susan Canfora has written for many newspapers and held positions ranging from managing editor to her favorite, news reporter. She joined the Coastal Point in June 2019. She teaches college writing, tutors and professionally edits.