Wild history of "blue laws" has several modern-day lessons (Matthew Albright)

The “blue laws” that were on the books in Delaware until 1941 literally made it illegal to work or to play sports on Sunday. State legislators had tried to repeal these laws several times, but failed to get it done, so Delaware AG James Morford (elected in 1939) “took matters into his own hands.” As colorfully recounted in this column, he told the police to “lock them up” and on Sunday, March 2, 1941, officers swept through the state arresting people they caught working – e.g., selling gas. As a result, “about 500 people were hauled in and police stations and courts were overwhelmed.”

Predictably, the General Assembly “got the message” and passed a bill to fix matters within a few days. “I tell you this story,” says Albright, “because it is interesting and hilarious, but I also see some parallels to the present day.” And he goes on to make a pitch for reassessing property taxes, which hasn’t been done in decades (New Castle 1983, Kent 1977, Sussex 1974). Everyone knows the current system makes no sense, yet our legislators can’t seem to get around to doing the necessary. Where is a modern-day James Morford to force the issue?

Perhaps Chancery Court Travis Laster, who is currently hearing a lawsuit by the ACLU and the Community Legal Aid Society in which the plaintiffs are pushing for property tax reassessment to raise more money for low income family/minority students, will play this role – with a lot of legislators secretly hoping for a ruling that forces such an outcome. School funding court case, Randall Chase (story) and Matthew Albright (column),

Then, when someone goes back and reads old News Journal articles 78 years from now, they may “realize how ridiculous it was to go four decades without reassessing property taxes. Folks, “you cannot refute the idea that, if you’re going to pay taxes on stuff, you should pay taxes based on how much that stuff is actually worth.” As it is, “some people are arbitrarily paying more taxes than they should, and some paying less – in some cases, far less.”

Comments: (1) The courts should stay out of this matter, for reasons previously noted. Ibid. (2) Public opposition reflects a lack of trust that politicians would settle for a revenue-neutral reapportionment versus their constant push to raise taxes. What has the General Assembly done lately to restore the public’s trust?
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