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March 26, 2013

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2 TUESDAY, MARCH 26- THURSDAY, MARCH 28, 2013 NEWS Executive committee hears testimony on death penalty Senate to consider SB 19 March 26 By Kara Nuzback A bill to repeal the death pen- alty in Delaware is making its way through the General As- sembly. Senate Bill 19 would remove all language related to execution from the Delaware code, ending the death penalty statewide. Life imprisonment without the pos- sibility of parole would become the ultimate punishment for first-degree murder. The Senate Executive Com- mittee voted 4-2 to release the bill to the Senate floor, March 20, after two hours of testimony mostly in favor of repeal. Three Of the six committee members - Senate Minority Leader Gary Simpson, R-Milford; Senate Majority Whip Margaret Rose Henry, D-Wilmington East; and Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilm- ington North - are sponsors of the bill. SB 19 has a total of 17 biparti- san sponsors. Newark resident Stewart Dotts testified in favor of repeal. Dotts said he was on the jury that sentenced ]ames Cooke to death in June 2007. Cooke was found guilty of the rape and murder of 20-year-old Lindsey Bonistall in 2005. "Thus, I became a killer too," Dotts said. "I will never be the same." Dotts said the state places an inconceivable burden on inno- cent people by putting them in a position to kill another human. Attorney Brendan O'Neill, who represented Cooke during his trial, also testified in favor of the bill. "It is morally wrong," he said. "Thou shalt not kill is one of our 10 commandments." O'Neill said many criminals sentenced to death are mentally ill, drug addicts or poor. "We do and can punish them," he said. "But we should not kill them." Several religious leaders testified in support of the bill, including Rev. Walter Everett, whose son was shot and killed in Connecticut in 1987. "You get closure when you buy a house, not after the death of a loved one," he said. "People's lives do not change after an execution." Everett said a life sentence allows victims' families to begin the healing processyears earlier than a death sentence would. University of Delaware Associate Professor Ben Fleury- Steiner testified death sentences are at an all-time low in the U.S., and many states are trending toward abolishing the death penalty. Earlier this month, Maryland became the 18th state in the na- tion to repeal the death penalty. Although the death penalty is still legal in many states, Fleury- Steiner said only a few counties impose the majority of execu- tions, but nearly all taxpayers in the country foot the bill. A few law enforcement of- ficials spoke out against SB 19 at the hearing. "! understand the necessity for having the death penalty," said Georgetown Police Chief Bill Topping. He testified he was a volunteer firefighter in 1992, and he was one of the officials who found the remains of Michelle Lawrie and her children, who were killed by Lawrie's estranged husband, David Lawrie. David Lawrie was executed by the state in 1999. Topp!ng also recalled the kill- ing of Georgetown Patrolman Chad Spicer in September 2009. "I attended that trial along with his family ever single day," Top- ping said, "His killer was found guilty." Spicer's killer, Derrick Powell, now sits on Death Row. Topping refuted the claim that the death penalty is more ex- pensive than life imprisonment. "The fact is, we can't put a price on removing people from society who have committed the worst Cape Gazette KARA NUZBACK PHOTO SEN. GARY SIMPSON, R-Milford, introduces a bill to repeal the death penal- ty in Delaware. Simpson is on the committee that released the bill to the Sen- ate floor March 20. crimes we could imagine," he said. Lewes Police Chief Jeff Hor- vath said none of the 142 death row inmates exonerated in the U.S. has been in Delaware. "We have one of the finest court systems and judiciaries in the country," he said. "We believe the residents of Delaware have faith in our criminal justice sys- tem." Horvath also said there was no way to gauge whether the Death Penalty was a deterrent because no criminal would ever admit to considering murder. '11 of our laws are deterrents to some people," he said. Horvath also pointed out no victims of Delaware crimes had .yet testified in favor of the repeal. Kathy Dillon, who testified in favor Of the bill, said there are likely victims who want to speak out against the death penalty, but are afraid of the backlash from their own community. "! know what that pressure feels like," she said. Dillon said her father, New York State Trooper Emerson Dillon, was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1974. Dillon said her father's killer escaped the death penalty because of one juror's vote, and she is thankful her family did not have to endure years of legal proceedings that would have accompanied a death sentence. The Senate is scheduled to consider SB 19 Tuesday, March 26. House OKs making tax hikes permanent Legislators remove sunsets on personal income, gross receipts taxes By Kara Nuzback knuzback@capegazette.corn Tax increases scheduled to expire this year could become permanent if any of four propos- als passed by the House become law. House representatives passed four bills related to personal income tax, gross receipts tax, estate tax and corporate fran- chise tax March 21. The package of bills now heads to the Senate. If senators approve the increas- es, the revenue the bills produce would make up for a gap in Gov. Jack Markell's proposed budget. Markell presented his $3.7 billion operating budget Jan. 24. He said if the four tax in- creases were kept in place, it would offset about half of a $56 million deficit in his proposed budget for fiscal year 2014. He has proposed spending cuts to make up the other half, includ- ing a $16 million cut to Farmland Preservation and Open Space programs and additional cuts in the Transportation Trust Fund, Municipal Street Aid and Corn- munity Transportation Fund. The four taxes were increased in 2009 when the state faced a major budget deficit. The higher rates are scheduled to expire this year unless legislators vote to extend them. Democrats hold the majority in the House and Senate, and Democratic leaders are behind a package of bills introduced in the House March 14. House Ma- jority Leader Valerie Longhurst, D-Bear, is the lead sponsor of all four bills, Under House Bill 50, the state's personal income tax would drop from 6.75 percent to 6.6 percent. The personal income tax top rate Went from 5.95 percent to 6.95 percent in 2009. Since then, the rate has been lowered to 6.75 percent. Department of Finance Secretary Tom Cook said only 20 percent of Delawareans are sub- ject to the tax, which is imposed only on citizens who make more than $60,000 a year. If liB 50 does not pass the Sen- ate, the state personal income tax would go back to 595 percent for the state's top earners. House Bill 51 would make the estate tax permanent. In 2009, lawmakers temporari- ly reinstated a defunct estate tax, which is levied on a decedent's assets. The tax is not imposed on any estate valued under $5.12 million. House Bill 52 would make the corporate franchise tax, enacted in 2009, permanent and maintain the maximum franchise tax of $180,000. All three bills were approved by House representatives in a vote of 26-15, largely along party lines. House Bill 53,_which would remove a sunset on the state's gross receipts tax rate, was ap- proved in a vote of 25-16, Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark South, joined the majority of Republi- cans to vote against the bill. Under HB 53, the current gross receipts tax rate would go down 1 percent for all businesses, and-the rate for manufacturing businesses would go down 30 percent. Businesses that make less than $100,000 per month in gross re- ceipts are excluded from the tax. Two amendments to HB 52 - proposed by Republican Rep- resentatives Deborah Hudson, R-Fairthorne, and Danny Short, R-Seaford - would have extend- ed the sunsets for one and two years, rather than make them permanent. Bothamendments faled in votes of 26-15. All Sussex County representatives voted for the ex- tensions except House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. Sirailar amendments to the other bills in the package failed by voice vote. Short brought up a $63 million tax-refund claim that is being investigated by the Department of Finance. An unnamed corpo- ration is claiming it paid taxes to Delaware for business it con- ducted out of state. The refund is not included in Markell's budget proposal. "I think that is an issue that hands over the citizens of Delaware," Short said. "I wish someone would explain it now, whether we owe it or we don't owe it." Cook said the state budgets only 98 percent of its revenue and leaves 2 percent of the bud- get - $70 million - as a cushion. If the state has to pay the refund, the 2 percent of unbudgeted revenue would absorb the cost, Cook said. Hudson, Rep, Mike Ramone, R- Middle Run Valley, and Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, asked Longhurst to delay the package of bills until the Delaware Eco- nomic Advisory Council has a more accurate forecast for the upcoming fiscal year, which be, gins in July. Ramone said the Bond Bill Committee does not meet until June and the Joint Finance Com- mittee does not meetuntil May. "I would just ask that we defer this decision," he said. Short made a motion to table tire bills and reconsider them at a later date, but his motion died in a voice vote. Rep. Melanie George Smith, D- Bear/Newark, said although the Joint Finance Committee writes the budget in May, it is planning the budget now. Secretary of Finance Tom Cook said the state's financial forecast would not change drasti- cally enough from March to June to warrant a delay. Longhurst said a delay would stall the budgeting process. "We have a known pot of money that's going to go away if we do not Continued on page 4