Legislative leaders from all four caucuses announced plans Wednesday to assess the building with an eye toward enhanced technology and security.
The nearly 90-year-old building hasn’t seen a major renovation in more than a generation.
Issues of security have arisen in the past couple of decades. Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January, a fence was built around Legislative Hall after reports of threats to all 50 state capitals surfaced.
During the pandemic legislative sessions have been conducted remotely. That technology is expected to continue even when the General Assembly returns to in-person sessions. The public and some legislators have urged increased streaming of hearings and the session itself.
House Joint Resolution 3 would establish the Legislative Building Committee to conduct a study of the existing structure to assess the future space needs for lawmakers, staff, and the public; examine the technological capabilities needed to promote openness and transparency, and determine what security upgrades might be necessary.
“When Legislative Hall was built nearly 90 years ago, the General Assembly didn’t have a full-time staff. They didn’t even have individual offices – they sat at their desks on the floor and conducted business. The Legislature itself and our roles have evolved. Technological advancements have made it possible to bring government from Dover to every corner of Delaware and beyond. And the world in which we now live, unfortunately, requires additional security considerations we never contemplated even 20 years ago,” House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf stated in a release released by House Democrats.
Constructed in 1933, Legislative Hall has undergone only two major expansions since becoming home to the Delaware General Assembly 88 years ago. In the 1960s, additions were constructed to the north and south of each chamber, adding several offices, including those now used by the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tempore. In the 90s, the east wings were built, which added office space for individual legislators and the second-floor hearing rooms for the two chambers.
The building does not have many dedicated meeting rooms that can adequately accommodate public committee hearings. Rooms are not equipped for live-streaming or multimedia presentations. On busy days, dozens of people can cram into small rooms, several of which are not ADA-compliant.
About 600 people – staff, legislators, lobbyists, press, and members of the public – visit Legislative Hall on an average session day. More than 1,700 came in and out of the building on June 30 – the last day of the legislative session – in the pre-pandemic year of 2019.
Between the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and the U.S. Capitol riots in January this year, safety concerns have changed drastically since the building’s last renovation more than 20 years ago. These issues also would be reviewed and addressed as part of the committee’s study.
The building committee would be compromised of three state representatives and three senators, including members of both parties, along with three residents (one each appointed by the governor, House speaker, and Senate president pro tempore), the House Chief Clerk, the Secretary of the Senate, the Controller General, the Capitol Police chief, and the Division of Research director.
HJR 3, sponsored by all 10 legislative leaders of the four caucuses, calls for the committee to deliver its final report by October 1, 2022.