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Legislative leaders talk compromise, economic growth

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Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, Valerie Longhurst, Brian Frazee, Kimberly Hoffman

House Speaker Valerie Longhurst, Delaware Healthcare Association President Brian Frazee and Morris James LLP Partner Kimberly Hoffman answer questions during the end-of-session policy conference hosted by the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. l PHOTO COURTESY OF THE DELAWARE STATE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

DOVER —  The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce held an end-of-session policy conference Thursday, highlighting major needs of the business community tracked by First State leaders.

DSCC President Michael Quaranta said although there were roughly 700 bills introduced during the current legislative season, DSCC tried to focus on the few that had the biggest potential impacts for their community.

Permits, policies, health care, workforce housing, homelessness, autonomous vehicles and state elections were on the top of the list for the room full of business professionals inside Delaware State University’s MLK Student Center.

The group seized the opportunity to learn about bills such as HB 350 which sought to curb growing hospital costs and is now awaiting Governor John Carney’s signature.

They also heard Morris James LLP Partner Kimberly Hoffman dive into HB 248 requiring additional pre-permit community outreach in underserved communities and HB 422 which would require the submission of an environmental justice impact report for any new facility or expansion project seeking an environmental permit in an overburdened community.

Hoffman told the group bills like these, which were opposed by the chamber in their original forms, would cause stress to businesses by adding more red tape to already burdensome processes.

House Speaker Valerie Longhurst took time out of her personal vacation to speak with the business leaders about legislative efforts, too, stating that compromise is an important tool for lawmakers.

“The one thing I can say about leadership is that the House has 41 people; we have 21 people in the other side [Senate]. Talking to people. . . that’s the best way to go,” she told the group. “Sometimes they just want to barrel it through, and I know you think I did that [referring to HB 350], but I did know we had to compromise.”

She said despite heated debates in recent weeks over health care concerns, she understands leaders in many industries, including hospital executives, are struggling to find help.

“It’s not just doctors or nurses that are having trouble. It’s across the board for everything, even teachers and businesses. It’s just hard to bring people in. We just don’t have enough mental health professionals in our schools, we have teachers doing just virtual… so it’s not just one industry, it’s all industries,” she told the chamber, highlighting the need for more student loan forgiveness programs. 

“I’m looking forward to working with Brian [Frazee, Delaware Healthcare Association president] on that because we do need more doctors in our state, and more nurses, as well. So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” she added.

Senator Dave Sokola agreed that health care is a crucial topic of importance for Delaware and the business community. He said he and his colleagues remain “laser focused” in working for working families in the state.  

“We don’t talk about it very much anymore, but we are still living in a post-pandemic economy and the folks at the Delaware State Chamber have done an incredible job of advocating for their members as we gradually return to some of the more predictable cycles many of us took for granted before March of 2020. . . It’s hard to overstate the turbulence created by the greatest public health crisis of our lifetime,” he said.

Even so, he continued, “Despite not raising a single tax, though we did do a couple of fees, since 2017, Delaware’s revenue has continued to grow as the economy has grown. Our state unemployment rate is now the lowest rate it’s been in a long time. Delaware’s [gross domestic product] is up 3.6% year-over-year. Our personal income rose 3.9% in the quarter of 2023.”

Like other speakers, Sokola also highlighted workforce development and housing as serious areas of concerns as the state continues to grow.

During the conference, Quaranta emphasized the need to engage with lawmakers like Sokola and Longhurst to really make an impact.

“One of the most important things that you can do is build relationships with members of the state house and state senate,” the DSCC president said. “That’s just like building a customer relationship that you have with your business. Invite them out to your business. . . invite them to understand why you do it the way you do it.”

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