How The General Assembly Turned What Should Have Been A Fast June 30th Into An Endless Night

I don’t get it.  Every single year the Delaware General Assembly insists on having their late-night marathon with hundreds of bills on the agendas.  They had many opportunities to prevent that this year.  But instead, they had unending tributes to departing legislators, the Governor scheduled non-budget bill signings on June 30th, and they waited until the last minute to put up a minimum wage bill.

The tributes to the departing legislators had been going on for days.  And they never seemed to end.  I get that you want to honor those who wrote bills for decades.  But a time limit on the comments would have been really good.

The temperature in Legislative Hall went up as Governor Carney signed an Executive Order around 4:45pm to put the methodology of “budget smoothing” into his proposed budget each year.  Since the Democrats in the General Assembly balked on this idea that would change the Delaware Constitution, Carney felt he had to get something about it in writing, thus the Executive Order.

Around the same time, an unending line of pro-gun supporters flooded Legislative Hall.  It was already a hot day, and just having more bodies in the place physically rose the temperature in there!  All the suits began sweating and it became uncomfortable.  As the pro-gun folk realized there was NOT going to be any last-minute legislation (which was their reason for coming- a just in case), they began to leave and you could actually feel the air in there.

Many candidates who filed for the upcoming election were seen in the halls.  Even Kathy McGimmick was seen dashing in, heading towards Speaker of the House Pete Schwartkopf’s office, and leaving about 10-15 minutes later.  It was a good opportunity to meet some of the candidates I had not met yet and to chat with those I had.

Even a wine bill caused chaos!  When Rep. Dave Wilson changed what I assume was a yes vote to a no, Rep. Jeff Spiegelman did not mince his words with Wilson as he yelled “You stabbed me in the back!”

For education, the VERY controversial House Bill #454 was stricken.  This was the “show me the money” bill for developers and a decrease in their property assessments for redeveloped land.  Buh-bye bad bill!

But here is what gets me.  They talk about how much they respect their staff but treat them to intolerable working conditions.  Some of their staff came in at 11am yesterday.  They were still there at 7:30am this morning.  Some of their staff are senior citizens.  Hell, some of the legislators are senior citizens!  I don’t blame every legislator for this.  But the leadership is who determines these monstrous agendas.

It is not a party no matter what you hear.  Having legislators pass laws when they are beyond the point of exhaustion is the very definition of insanity.  Tempers flare and they grumble.  Visitors wait in the lobby and constantly ask what the heck is going on.  This morning, when I left around 2:45am, the Capitol Police were already indicating their workers were past the 16 hour shift mark.  Sure, the free ice cream for visitors helps.  But the cafeteria closes at 8pm.  You have to go to WaWa to get coffee!

This is what kills me about Legislative Hall- the lack of plugs!  We live in a cell phone society now.  The plug shortage (except for legislators and their staff) causes folks to huddle around the rare plug outlets.  Which brings me to my next point- why do they not have TVs in the lobbies showing live feeds of the House or Senate?  This isn’t 1950 anymore Delaware!  We can do this.  Hell, they could do live feeds on the internet as well!

There has to be a better way.  It wasn’t like there were a ton of new bills that were introduced on the last day.  It was the fact they left tons of bills languishing until the last minute.  Instead of having all these tributes and fluff stuff during their many other legislative days, maybe they could do what we elected them to do- vote on legislation!

I was one of the lucky ones.  The last education legislation passed at 2am.  Delaware Secretary of Education Dr. Susan Bunting left immediately after that vote.  I should have taken her queue but decided to stick around until I asked myself what was so important for me to stick around.  Sure, I could have seen the minimum wage bill debacle.  Which would have consisted of me rolling my eyes when they decided to stay open.

I lost big time.  I called a departure time of 12:38am.  They left hours after the sun came up this morning.  On the plus side, they get to rest for the next six months!  But like the myth of teachers doing nothing during the summer, many of our legislators plan for the next session and do a ton of research on bills they would like to introduce.  Many of them will spend the next few months campaigning as all 41 of the State Reps and 10 of the State Senators are up for re-election.  For some of them, they will sail off into the retirement sunset and, no doubt, thank the lucky stars they will never have to pull the June 30th/July 1st all-nighter.

The sad part?  I’ll probably do this again next year.  I’m a glutton for punishment!  But I have to admit, I do enjoy Delaware politics for a few reasons.  We are a small state.  You can drive an hour or so from any direction and wind up at Legislative Hall.  It can take time, but you can get to know pretty much every single legislator in the state.  You can hang out at Legislative Hall and say hi to the Governor when he emerges from the bat cave.  You can joke around with his staff as they walk around looking like the weight of the world rests on their shoulders and manage to get them to crack a smile.  You can attend a rally against separating families one minute and chat with folks who wear “live free or die” t-shirts the next.  You can chat with the Delaware Secretary of Education and not worry about detention.  If you go to Leg. Hall often enough, the Capitol Police call you by your name when you walk in the door.  For me, it is my home away from home in a weird way.

DON’T BLINK!

Do me a favor.  While you are reading this, play a little game with me.  I am talking through the 3rd wall here, to you, the reader.  Pretend I am on a stage and you are just one of hundreds of folks in the audience.  This game is called “DON’T BLINK!”.  You have to really focus.

I’m on the stage talking about your least favorite subject, whatever that might be.

DON’T BLINK!

You have to focus on not blinking your eyes.  Easy, right?  We’ll see.

As I babble on and on about your least favorite subject, DON’T BLINK!  I want you to take out a piece of paper.  I’ll wait for you.  While you are getting it though, DON’T BLINK!  Don’t even think about it.  Keep those eyes open.  DON’T BLINK!  Did you get your paper yet?  Did you bother to get a pen?  DON’T BLINK!

Good, you have your paper and pen.  I want you to write a set of numbers.  It will be 13, 26, 39, and you have to write down the rest.  DON’T BLINK!  I need a set of 20 numbers.  DON’T BLINK!

How many numbers do you have down?  But wait, while you DON’T BLINK and you are writing down the numbers, I want you to yell out “VITAMINS”.  But DON’T BLINK while you yell out “VITAMINS” while you are writing down the numbers.  Don’t you dare!  And don’t be caught off guard from the people staring and laughing at you because you yelled “VITAMINS”.  Because you have an assignment you have to get done.  And DON’T BLINK!

While you are doing all this, I want you to capture whatever smell is in the room and focus solely on that smell.  Smell it with every fiber of your being while you DON’T BLINK!, write down your numbers, and deal with the stares you got from yelling “VITAMINS”.  How many numbers do you have down?  If you cheated, you probably have the 20 different numbers.  That is, if you blinked, didn’t focus on the smells in the room, didn’t yell “VITAMINS”, and only focused on the numbers.

For students with Tourette Syndrome, this is their life in the classroom.  It can happen in other areas of schools as well.  When they are younger, the tics come naturally.  But as they get older, and notice more and more the odd little stares or classmates asking them what they are doing, they begin to do everything they can to suppress those tics.  But those tics are neurological in nature.  Little signals go out from the brain that affect those with Tourette Syndrome and command the body to do those things.  Suppression can be done, but it is energy that can’t be destroyed.  It comes out in other ways.

In the “DON’T BLINK” game, that exercise was for those who don’t suffer from Tourette’s.  So they can possibly understand, at a very small and miniscule level, what those with tics go through every day.  For far too many of these special needs students, that energy does come out in some way when they are suppressing tics.  But the more stimuli they have around them, the harder it is to focus on that.  Add a few different things to that soup, and you can understand why those who exhibit motor or physical tics have a hard time keeping their cool.  It is almost like having a case of the hiccups, all day, every day.

Suppressing tics also has another side effect: exhaustion.  It can be physically tiring to attempt to stop your body what it naturally wants to do.  Most students with Tourette Syndrome do not suffer from just that disability.  They have what are known as co-morbidities.  We’ve all heard the alphabet disabilities: ADHD, OCD, and ODD.  But add anxiety, depression, sensory processing issues, and yes, at times, rage.  It can be a perfect storm.

There aren’t many students with Tourette Syndrome in Delaware.  I know of less than ten myself.  There could be more.  But for even this small population of students, we MUST get it right for them.  They are counting on us.  For far too many Tourette Syndrome students across the country, schools want to address the disability the same way they would ADHD.  It is a complex puzzle, but the pieces can be put together.  It takes time, and patience, and calm.  We have come very far with Autism but I believe if it wasn’t so prevalent, we would be just as in the dark as we are with Tourette Syndrome.

In my opinion, a student with Tourette Syndrome should be celebrated in schools.  They are just like you and I with intelligence.  Many TS students are wicked smart.  But their body and mind can send out a signal on a dime without them even being aware.  Or other times it is like when you know you are going to sneeze and you try to stop it.  But most times, it is like trying to stop a case of the hiccups.  I believe it is incumbent on our schools, from elementary to high school, to let everyone they can possibly tell in that building, exactly what those tics are and where they come from.  Because if a student with TS is ticcing, they can’t help it.  Let them tic.  We wouldn’t tell a blind person to see or a paralyzed person to walk, right?  It is the exact same thing.  Let students and staff know it isn’t weird.  Do the “DON’T BLINK!” game with the students.  Let them know and feel what it is like for the TS student.  Talking about tics is VERY different from experiencing them.

This isn’t just about special education.  It’s about doing what is right.  We want to educate the “whole” student.  We want “compassionate” schools.  But we need to practice what we preach.  All schools need to do a better job with understanding manifestation of disabilities.  So many want to treat things as a behavior.  Unless you are 100% sure, assume it isn’t.  If you are a teacher or staff member in a school that doesn’t teach a TS student, let me make a recommendation for you.  You might be generally aware a student has disabilities but you may not be sure what the manifestations are.  Ask your building leader or special education coordinator if you can see their IEP.  I’m pretty sure most parents wouldn’t object to any adult in a school wanting to know more about their child with Tourette Syndrome.  As parents, we can only educate so many.  We have restrictions the school might not have.  We don’t have access to every single teacher or staff member.

Students with Tourette Syndrome go through things daily you and I can’t imagine.  At the end of the day, they want what we all want- to be loved and accepted.  That’s all.  Nothing more, nothing less.