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.

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Happy Fiscal Year 2018 In Delaware… Or Are We Still FY2017?

Can anyone tell me what fiscal year it is?  Are we still FY2017 here in Delaware?  Because our legislators got a 72 hour extension to pass a budget.  Having seen the action last night/this morning, it seems like insurmountable odds.  But compromise they must.  Or they ALL face the wrath of Delaware citizens.  Especially if the state winds up closing like New Jersey did today.

The mood was VERY somber over there yesterday.  I spent more time in the House than the Senate, but even that was minimal.  Most of the evening both parties were in Caucus chewing the fat about the budget.  Governor Carney stayed in his office for the most part.  I did see him grabbing a smoothie in front of Legislative Hall.  But if we want to talk about waste, how about not leaving about 30 boxes of uneaten pizza in the meeting room next to the House chamber!  I did snag a couple of pieces.  I didn’t wait in the HUGE line for ice cream though.  What else do lobbyists and legislators have to do while their leaders are

So the legislators have to come in tomorrow, on a Sunday.  And I will predict Monday as well.  On social media, the blame game is getting tossed around on both sides.  Lots of folks want to throw darts at Andria Bennett for voting no on the personal income tax bill but everyone knows it doesn’t matter because it was NEVER going to pass in the Senate.  I understand her intent and respect her for that.  But with ten Republicans in the Senate that baby wasn’t going anywhere!

Saw tons of people there.  Had lots of good conversations.  Lots of laughs and joking around.  But for the most part, it was an endless night of waiting.  And hearing the bell to get the legislators back in their chambers.  An endless ring.  It almost drove one of my friends insane.  She wasn’t used to it.  You become numb to it after a while.  Ding.  Ding.  Ding.  Anyone who has spent even a bit of time there knows exactly what I’m talking about.

I won’t be heading over there while they hash all this out.  It is anyone’s guess what happens next.  I heard many times, from many people “I think they got a deal”, but until it is written down and voted on it means squat.  So while the rest of the state waits in breathless anticipation of when we are going to get a budget, I’m going to kick back and relax.  Watch the sunset, take walks, have some fun, and just breathe.  I’m still blogging, just not spending more time than I have to watching elected officials figure it out.

Delaware Republicans Release Anti-Prevailing Wage Legislation, Let The Labor Wars Begin!

Senate Bill 116, introduced today, would require a three-year exemption on prevailing wages for school construction.  It would also require public schools to give a cost study to the Controller General’s Office.

Sponsored by Senator Gary Simpson along with Senator Greg Lavelle and State Reps Danny Short and Deb Hudson.  Co-sponsors include six GOP Senators and six GOP State Reps.

I find it very interesting they chose school construction for this given the audit that came out last week against Sussex Technical School District.  If there is some secret deal or compromise to pass the state budget, this would be the key legislation the Delaware Republicans have been looking for.  Don’t count it out until everyone goes home on July 1st.  Strange things happen the night of June 30th and the early hours of July 1st.  A bill could be dead, and presto, it has a suspension of rules.

I would have to image the unions are already opposing this bill.  Call me crazy, but I would guess they aren’t strong supporters.

As Deep Budget Cuts Loom, Will New Tax Bills Save The Day In Delaware?

Fiscal Year 2018 will involve a lot of pain if the Joint Finance Committee’s marked-up state budget continues down the same dark path it is on now.  While some cuts seem like a good idea, others will make children go without desperately needed services.  The State Board of Education is kaput if everything stays the same.  But could new tax bills, which would bring in more revenue to the state, cause some of those cuts to disappear?

In Delaware, the General Assembly needs a 3/5 vote to pass any revenue bills.  In the House, that requires 25 yes votes and in the Senate, 13.  This is where it gets very tricky.  The House has 25 Democrats and 16 Republicans.  The Senate has 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans.  The House could conceivably pass the budget just on their Democrat base, but complications could easily arise.  Some Dems in the House will not favor certain perks in the epilogue language, such as the Charter School Transportation Slush Fund.  There is at least one Democrat, State Rep. John Kowalko, who will not say yes to the budget if that is in there.  The Republicans in both houses want something: prevailing wage.  They have wanted this for years, but this could be the year where they get what they want, or at least make some inroads towards it.

The Joint Finance Committee has to make the cuts until they see more revenue.  Are they going after some of the programs that help people the most?  Not yet.  But today is another day and is expected to be uglier than yesterday.  The JFC does not meet again until Tuesday, June 6th.  I expect a whirlwind of activity at Legislative Hall every single day someone is there between now and July 1st.

In Governor Carney’s proposed budget, the local share of student transportation costs went from 10% to 15%.  Yesterday, the Joint Finance Committee raised that to 20% with the expectation the school districts can recoup those costs from this mythological one-time Match Tax.  Carney proposed the district school boards utilize this option without a referendum.  Let’s be very clear on this: if this happens, do not expect taxpayers to pass referenda any time soon.

No matter how this plays out, John Carney’s vision of shared sacrifice will have winners and losers.  If the uber-wealthy get more perks like the estate tax repeal, it will become very obvious who is pulling the strings behind the curtain at Legislative Hall in Dover.

Legislation Heading Into July 1st

I went to the Wilmington Blue Rocks game earlier tonight and now I am at Legislative Hall.  The Delaware Senate defeated the WEIC redistricting legislation, HJR #12 with 6 yes and 15 no votes.  But they passed the new SJR #17 and SB #300 which kicks the can down the road and makes WEIC plan more.  There is a chance WEIC could continue based on a lot of stuff I heard involving amendments and very certain conditions which I didn’t completely understand.  Don’t get your hopes up too much though.

Kim Williams charter school audit bill is on the Senate ready list.  I wish I could tell you what the heck is on the agenda, but right now it says nothing and we all know that isn’t the case!  But the Senate and the House are in Caucus right now, so I haven’t seen Sneaky Pete or Val yet.  Went outside and talked to the one and only Danny Rufo next to the “tiki bar” outside.

House is back in session.  Sneaky Pete waved at someone up in the balcony.  I didn’t know who, so I waved back.  Val came in and was talking w/Sneaky Pete and then looked up at me with a kind of sort of smile.  I smiled back.  I heard Jack summoned Tony Allen and Kenny Rivera to come to the office to talk WEIC.  Hearing it is still on life support but might be coming off it soon.  It is now July 1st.  No word on HB #435 (charter audit bill).  Earl told me the Senate will be putting an amendment on HB #399 (teacher evaluation bill) and he hopes it comes back to the House.  Now they are going to work on Senate Joint Resolution #17, the latest WEIC bill.

There is a motion to suspend rules on SJR #17.  Passed, 22 yes, 17 no, 2 absent.  Rep. Collins talked about the letter from Red Clay and Christina asking them not to move forward.  Rep. J. Johnson said things have worked out and the districts are okay with the compromise reached (this was the meeting in Jack Markell’s office).  I have to wonder who on the Red Clay and Christina school districts are okay with this.  But it passed, with 22 yes and 17 no, 2 absent.  Okay, I’m going to stop writing two absent for every damn bill because they are going to be absent the rest of the night!  Now we are onto SB #300, the second WEIC bill covered in July, 2016.  Kim Williams put an amendment on it.  Amendment to SB #300  State Rep. Miro is asking about the possibility of Red Clay suspending the plan at their next board meeting.  Tony Allen was called up.  Tony said if this doesn’t move forward he will be suspending the plan right after the vote.  Something is up here.  Something isn’t right.  There is bait in the water, but I’m not sure who is biting.

State Rep. Mike Ramone asked what the $200,000 is for in the amendment and SB #300.  Tony said it would be to fund the commission moving forward.  Tony said the prior funding for the WEAC and WEIC books came from companies, donations, and even the Chair of WEIC (Tony Allen himself).  Kowalko asked Tony if this is similar to an architect, needing planning.  Tony said yes.  Senate Bill #300 w/Amendment #1 passes, 21 yes, 18 no.  The plan moves forward.  I don’t know what the hell any of this means.  Someone needs to explain it to me.

Heading over to the Senate now.  HB #399 is on the agenda.  And SB #300 has to come back to the Senate because the House put an amendment on it.  They are doing other bills so I’ll update on other bills during the wait.  Absolutely nothing on HB #30 (basic spec. ed. funding for K-3 students).  The School Breakfast bill is up in the Senate (HB #408 w/House Amendment #2).

And my battery died.  To be continued in a new post!