The Delaware 148th General Assembly returns to legislative session on January 12th, 2016. The General Assembly meets in public Tuesdays to Thursdays from the 2nd Tuesday in January until June 30th (or whenever the State Budget passes). The General Assembly is divided into two houses: The House of Representatives which has 41 State Representatives and the Senate, with 21 State Senators.
The House of Representatives:
Speaker of the House: Pete Schwartzkopf, House Majority Leader: Valerie Longhurst, House Majority Whip: John Viola, House Minority Leader: Daniel Short, House Minority Whip: Deb Hudson
House Committees: Agriculture, Appropriations, Capital Infrastructure, Corrections, Economic Development/Banking/Insurance/Commerce, Education, Energy, Ethics, Gaming & Parimutuels, Health & Human Development, House Administration, House Rules, Housing & Community Affairs, Joint Finance, Judiciary, Labor, Manufactured Housing, Natural Resources, Public Safety & Homeland Security, Revenue & Finance, Sunset Committee (Policy Analysis & Government Accountability), Telecommunication Internet & Technology, Transportation/Land Use and Infrastructure, Veterans Affairs
President Pro Tempore: Patricia Blevins, Senate Majority Leader: David McBride, Senate Majority Whip: Margaret Rose Henry, Senate Minority Leader: Gary Simpson, Senate Majority Whip: Greg Lavelle, *normally, the Lieutenant Governor is the President of the Senate but since there is no Lieutenant Governor since Matt Denn became the Attorney General, the President Pro Tempore holds the function.
Senate Committees: Administrative Services/Elections, Adult & Juvenile Corrections, Agriculture, Banking and Business, Bond, Children Youth & Families, Community/County Affairs, Education, Energy & Transit, Ethics, Executive, Finance, Health & Social Services, Highways & Transportation, Insurance & Telecommunications, Judiciary, Labor & Industrial Relations, Legislative Council, Natural Resources & Environmental Control, Permanent Rules, Public Safety, Sunset, Veterans Affairs
The below chart as shown on the General Assembly website, shows what happens when a bill is introduced. Prior to a bill being filed, a State Representative of the House or a State Senator writes a bill. They send it out to their fellow legislators for sponsorship. It is very typical to see a bill co-sponsored by a House Rep. and a Senator. But wherever the bill originates from this is the chamber it is heard in first.
The House and Senate both have Resolutions, Concurrent Resolutions, and Joint Resolutions. A resolution refers to a matter within either the House or the Senate, not both. A concurrent resolution is not statutory, meaning it does not change anything in the law. For example, the Senate in the 147th General Assembly passed Senate Concurrent Resolution #63, which created the IEP Task Force. The House had to approve it as well, but it didn’t have legislative power in that the task force created from it could create law. They recommended different things which then became Senate Bill 33 in the 148th General Assembly. A Joint Resolution has to be signed by the Governor once it passes both chambers. As per the General Assembly website, “a joint resolution is not a law but is used to employ temporary measures and has the force of law while in effect.” A recent example of this would be the Senate Joint Resolution #2 Assessment Inventory Committee. The Senate handles Nominations. These are typically nominations from the Governor. It could be for committees outside of Legislative Hall, or even a Cabinet position, like the nomination hearing for Dr. Steven Godowsky at the end of October when he became the Secretary of Education for Delaware. It can be very typical to see the Senate reconvening during their “off time” for a set of nominations.
Many bills are introduced, get assigned to a committee, and they just sit there. Nothing happens with them. Or it could be released from committee and goes on what is called the “ready list”, meaning the full chamber can vote on it. But before the vote, it has to be put on the agenda, and either the Speaker of the House or the President Pro Tempore for the Senate holds the power to determine what gets put on the agenda and what doesn’t.
Most committees meet on Wednesdays, but some do meet on Tuesdays or Thursdays. Committee meetings are open to the public and you do have the ability to give public comment in most situations. The House releases minutes of their committee meetings but the Senate does not. In the Senate as well, committee members do not have to be present at a meeting to release legislation from committee. For both chambers, there is no set time for committee meetings each week. The only requirement for public notice is for these meetings to have an agenda at least five days prior to the committee meeting and list of which legislation is going to be discussed. That is not always a guarantee the legislation will be heard in that committee meeting, which happened with House Bill 50 last year in the Senate Education Committee. It was heard a week later, but there was also a very full docket of bills on the first agenda. In terms of education legislation and committee meetings, I will be posting all of that on here, along with agendas and meeting times. But for other committees you may be interested in I strongly suggest bookmarking the General Assembly website.
For the most part, the voting action by the full House or Senate takes place on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The typical day consists of both chambers opening up at 2pm. This is open to the public, and this is where you will see House or Senate business discussion as well as “honorary” legislation. As an example, House Concurrent Resolution #36 recognized Tourette Syndrome Awareness month. When this part of the session ends, the House and Senate go into Caucus. This is driven by the political party so the Democrats go to their caucus and the Republicans to their own. Typically, the legislators return to session at 4pm, and this is where legislation on the Agenda gets a vote. The public can attend but they are not allowed to speak to the legislators once the session begins until either a recess or termination of the session.
In my experience at Legislative Hall, I have found all of the legislators to be nice people. They are all friendly and responsive to the public. Even the ones you may be at odds with over issues. They are also insanely busy, exponentially so as the months go by. The best way to get your concerns out is to contact your district State Representative or Senator, but I talk to a lot of legislators not in my district. If you go to the top of the stairs at Legislative Hall, you will see chairs in the lobby. This is where you see a lot of folks dressed very nice, usually huddled in conversation or very quiet, just waiting. These are the lobbyists. Their job is to sway votes for certain issues for their bosses. There is no easier way to put it.
If there is certain legislation you may want to see, understand a State Rep. or Senator most likely isn’t going to just jump on it. My best advice would be to get others involved who may want to see the same type of legislation and have them contact the legislators in your district. Your chances are better if your issue becomes their issue. That doesn’t always happen with one voice, but several. If, for some reason, you don’t feel your district legislators are responding, it may help to reach out to another legislator. It is a very tricky process. I would present your collective idea with research to back it up and make sure it is something that could be done without changing the Delaware Constitution. Legislation stating Delaware would now have three Governors or five chambers in Legislative Hall just isn’t going to happen!
The General Assembly works in two year blocks of time. We are entering the second half of the 148th General Assembly, so any legislation that doesn’t pass or doesn’t receive a vote by June 30th is dead. Any legislation still active or pending from the first half of the 148th General Assembly is still alive, even though the legislators were in recess (with a few exceptions) for six months. In 2017, the 149th General Assembly will begin, which will run until 6/30/18. The entire House of Representatives is up for re-election every two years. Senators typically have four-year terms. This year, 11 out of the 21 Senators are up for re-election.
Getting involved in the legislative process is not as hard as it seems. Your voice is important. Find other voices that feel the same and let them be heard. Showing up in person is usually the best, but emails, phone calls, and Social Media are just as important.