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Marijuana, taxes and roads: 5 bills Delaware’s businesses are watching

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By Dan Linehan

As the General Assembly enters this session’s final month, business interests across Delaware are challenging some bills and cheering for others.

We asked chambers of commerce which bills they’re tracking and what they think about them.

Marijuana legalization

The largest dot on businesses’ radar screens may be a bill to legalize the possession and use of 1 ounce or less of marijuana by adults 21 and older.

The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce surveyed its members and found 71 percent of them opposed the bill, said James DeChene, its senior vice president for government affairs.

He said the bill doesn’t protect businesses from liability if their workers get impaired by marijuana and cause an accident. Employers are watching an ongoing court case involving a worker fired from a Kraft Heinz plant in Dover in 2016 after getting in an accident at work and testing positive for marijuana. The man had a medical marijuana card.

A central problem – and why marijuana is different, from a liability perspective, than alcohol – is testing. While a breathalyzer can establish that an employee has been drinking, there is no ironclad test to prove someone is impaired by marijuana, DeChene says.

Testing can only reveal that a person has used marijuana in the past several days. Its mere presence in the blood would not be strong evidence of impairment at any given time.

DeChene says businesses are looking for more legal protections, including definitions for impairment and statutory methods for testing.

New tax brackets

Democrats are aiming to create two new tax brackets for high-earning Delawareans. At present, the state taxes all income above $60,000 at 6.6%, and the bill would add the following brackets:

  • 7.1% for all income between $125,000 and $250,000
  • 7.85% for all income above $250,000

As usual, the new rates would only apply to the income earned in each bracket. For example, a person earning $300,000 a year would pay the highest rate on $50,000 of their income.

DeChene points to a 2015 state report on revenue that recommended against higher tax brackets because they “would increase Delaware’s reliance on an even narrower portion of volatile revenues and raise questions relating to economic competitiveness.”

In other words, the high earners could choose to leave. Instead, the report recommends “base broadening,” or making more income subject to taxes. For example, it suggests eliminating itemized deductions from the state income tax.

Focus on Alternative Skills Training (FAST)

This bill would create a reimbursement program to give new high-school graduates up to $9,000 to pursue a job credentialing or certification program. The goal is to incentivize students to pursue a trade or career without spending years in college.

DeChene says there are plenty of jobs that require these certifications – including in HVAC and health care – and pay well above minimum wage.

“If you have kids who’re out of high school and not sure what they’re going to do with their lives, this gets them out of the parents’ basement and into a job that pays more than the bare minimum,” he said.

The program’s cost is capped at $1 million a year and would be paid using general fund appropriations.

Contractor regulation

This bill, which would require contractors to register with the Delaware Department of Labor, is a mixed bag from the business perspective, says C. Scott Kidner, vice chair of legislative affairs for the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce.

On the one hand, it would make it legal for Delaware subcontractors to hire other subcontractors, a sought-after change. But there are a number of details in the bill – including giving only 10 business days to contest an enforcement action – that should be changed, he said.

“We’re also very concerned about how it ends up,” Kidner says.

Transportation Improvement Districts

A New Castle County ordinance may change how roads and other infrastructure are built to accommodate new development – and who pays for them.

Called County Ordinance 19-005, it sets up a framework for the County Council to more closely tie together development and the infrastructure to service it. It allows the county to create detailed transportation plans, but only inside so-called Transportation Improvement Districts, or TIDs.

Businesses inside a TID would split the cost of the upgrades. As it is, developers often don’t have to pay for infrastructure until a road hits capacity, after which point any new business can be on the hook for major improvement costs.

The new districts are intended to spur job growth, reduce sprawl and more closely align land use and transportation decisions. The ordinance is slated for a May 28 vote.

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