Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee say they were not notified that Democrats planned to release bills from the House Appropriations Committee they sit on.
The bills were signed by the Democrat members Wednesday, maybe during a caucus meeting, and then press releases were sent out saying they had been released by the committee, which never met.
Among them were a new version of the permit-to-purchase bill, which would require anyone buying a handgun to have both a permit and a training course before they could buy the gun, as well as a bill that would fine gun sellers for not keeping ammunition locked up.
Rep. Kevin Hensley, R-Odessa, and Rep. Charles Postles, R-Milford, both Republican members of the House Appropriations Committee, said Thursday they were not able to comment on the release of the permit bill, SS 1 for SB 2, “because they were never notified that the legislation was being considered by the House Appropriations Committee. ”
A vote to release the measure was taken without their knowledge, they said in the joint statement.
Delaware law allows legislators to sign the backs of bills rather than taking a vote in public.
Efforts to reach Hensley and Postles Friday or House Minority leaders Mike Ramone, R-Newark/Pike Creek, were unsuccessful.
The ammunition bill, House Bill 270, is sponsored in the House by Rep. Kim Williams, D-Marshallton, who is also chair of the Appropriations Committee. It was prefiled Thursday.
The permit bill is sponsored by House Majority Leader Melissa Minor-Brown and Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman.
Efforts also were unsuccessful to reach Williams or Minor-Brown for comment Friday.
The move comes as legislators continue to pay lip service to the idea of civil and cordial relations between the parties and working together for the good of the state.
With a Democratic Supermajority in the Senate, they can pass whatever they want, but need a few Republican votes in the House even though Dems are the majority there.
In a press release about the permit bill, House Speaker Valerie Longhurst said again that she is committed to passing SB 2 (S) when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
“For the past decade, we have passed some of the most comprehensive gun safety laws in the country, making Delaware a leader by strengthening our background checks, closing loopholes, banning assault-style firearms and large-capacity magazines, and instituting red flag laws,” she said. “I’ve been proud to sponsor many of these bills and stand up to the gun lobby.”
One member of that gun lobby said the proper procedure would be to have held a meeting and a hearing and the release was a set up to meet that January promise.
“The process was not done in a normal way,” said Jeff Hague of the Delaware State Sportsmen Assocation. “To me that is underhanded. It is not Democratic. What they did was just do it, regardless.”
In the last few years, any bills involving guns have invariably sparked long, well-attended and hotly contested hearings along every step.
Hague’s group doesn’t like the bill and thinks it is discriminatory, among other things.
Hague said Hensley and Postles both told him they had no idea the bills were under consideration and the first they knew was when they started getting calls about the bills.
Sen. Eric Buckson, R-Dover, said that opposition to the permitting bill does not mean opposition to the dealing with gun violence and mental illness.
“Taking away law-abiding citizens’ rights to gun ownership by creating ineffective burdens and obstacles will not cure the mental illness problems here in Delaware,” he said. “Delawarean’s, regardless of race or economic status, have made significant sacrifices when it comes to their individual right to own a gun. Asking them to give up more of their rights and pay a hefty price tag to do so seems out of touch with what hard-working Delawareans expect from their legislature.”
Here’s more about the bills.
The bill stems from the theft of 500,000 rounds of ammunition from Cabela’s last year.
It would create fines for stores that don’t lock up ammunition as well as raise the theft of ammunition to a felony.
The Cabela’s at Christiana Mall had been stacking its ammunition in the middle of the sales floor, making it easy for people to steal, the Delaware Department of Justice said last year.
One woman, Danielle Brookens, is believed to have stolen at least 500,000 rounds of ammunition, selling a substantial portion of it to drug dealers and other criminals in Delaware and Pennsylvania, the DOJ said.
She was sentenced to a drug diversion program after pleading guilty to possession of the ammunition.
House Bill 270 would impose civil fines of $1,000 to $10,000 on stores that didn’t lock up ammunition so only employees could access it.
Cabela’s voluntarily moved all its ammunition behind sales counters in March, but Williams says the bill will ensure all small and large suppliers do the same.
Williams said the ammunition theft is part of a larger problem of retail theft affecting all stores, but she focused on this because it’s a commodity that fuels crime activity.
“We need to demand more of the retailers who sell these products in our communities,” said Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Newark, the Senate prime sponsor of House Bill 270. “It makes no sense for stores to put razors, deodorant and baby formula behind the counter while leaving boxes of ammunition on the floor where someone can tuck them into their pockets and walk out the door.”
The bill would fine retailers not adhering to the law $1,000 for the first offense, $5,000 for the second, and up to $10,000 for a third or any subsequent offense.
It also requires weapons dealers applying for a new license or a license renewal to provide a description of their theft and loss prevention policies and procedures, as well as documentation of ammunition thefts or losses from the prior year.
The bill would also make shoplifting ammunition a class G felony, regardless of the value of the shoplifted goods.
HB 270 has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.
If passed, Senate Bill 2(S) would require residents to complete a firearm training course and obtain a permit before purchasing a handgun.
Most Delawareans have to complete an approved firearm training course in the last five years to obtain the permit. Qualified active and retired law enforcement officers and anyone permitted to carry a concealed deadly weapon by the State of Delaware would be exempt because they already had a firearm training course.
“In almost every aspect of our lives, people must undergo some version of training: to operate machinery, for medical purposes, to drive, to serve alcohol, and many other activities,” Minor-Brown said in a press release. “Requiring people who want to buy a firearm to take a training course isn’t some undue burden; it’s basic common sense to learn how to safely load, use and store a lethal weapon. This will help us reduce straw purchases, keep firearms out of the wrong hands, and ultimately make both the gun owners and the public safer.”
SB 2 (S) was released from the House Judiciary Committee in May. Under House Rule No. 20, SB 2(S) was then reassigned to the House Appropriations Committee. The press release announced it had passed the Appropriations Committee.
Under that rule, any bill with a fiscal note estimating that it would cost $100,000 or more in any one of the next three fiscal years must be reassigned to the Appropriations Committee, which is made up of the House members of the Joint Finance Committee.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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