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House and Senate Republican leaders, citing a growing number of Covid-19 vaccinations and the limitations of remote proceedings, called for the Delaware General Assembly to resume in-person public committee meetings and floor action.
Chances of moving to an in-person session this year are slim, given the solid majority Democrats enjoy in both houses. The state is also an uptick in coronavirus cases. States dominated by Republican legislators, one example being Pennsylvania, have stayed with in-person sessions, but have also struggled with Covid-19 cases.
General Assembly Republicans point to last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on two controversial gun control bills as proof of what they view as a flawed system.
“I found that meeting to be disturbing,” said State Senate Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetow, who sits on the committee. “Citizens testifying before us were given one-minute to provide testimony, were often cut off in mid-sentence, and were not allowed to engage members of the committee. Proponents of virtual meetings say they allow greater transparency and participation. That’s not without merit, yet the dark flipside of virtual meetings is that they allow legislators to wield more control. They are able to keep citizens at arm’s length, distancing themselves from the weight of emotional testimony that could not be denied were they in the same room. As it is, committee chairs don’t even have to look at citizens because they have the option of cutting off their video feed. Virtual meetings facilitate the discourteous treatment of citizens. That is unacceptable at any time, but even more so when there is no reason we cannot meet in-person.”
Republicans cited the growing number of vaccinated Delawareans as a reason for resume in-person sessions.
“In mid-December, House and Senate Republicans issued a joint statement asking that contentious legislation not be worked in the General Assembly until citizens could again attend committee meetings and have face-to-face interactions with their legislators,” said State Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker (R-Ocean View). “That lasted only a few weeks before Senate Democrats started seeing the current situation as a prime opportunity to fast-track their Progressive agenda. They already passed the $15 an hour minimum wage hike, and two major gun rights infringement bills though our chamber, with more on the horizon. I think Democrats see virtual meetings as an ideal environment in which they can limit and control citizen participation as they pass one contentious bill after another.”
Democrats issued the following response:
“We are all eager to return to in-person meetings in Legislative Hall when it is safe to do so. But the minority party’s suggestion that we cannot or should not continue our work before that happens flies in the face of what Delawareans demanded at the ballot box last fall. Delawareans have been asked to make dramatic changes in how they conduct business, and they’ve adapted time and time again. They deserve the same nimbleness from their elected representatives.
Our virtual legislative session has resulted in unprecedented public involvement as evidenced by last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee, which may have been the most well-attended committee meeting in the history of the Delaware General Assembly.
Again, we will return to the Legislative Hall when it is safe.
In the meantime, we will not be bullied into delaying legislation broadly supported by Delawareans of both political parties. We will not be bullied into putting the public’s health at risk. And we will not be dissuaded from governing, especially at a time when Delaware is just beginning to recover from this pandemic.”
The legislature is currently on its Easter Break and will return to session April 20th.