The Delaware General Assembly will live-stream committee meetings on its website when the legislative session resumes in January.
The Delaware General Assembly had slow to embrace new technology and streaming prior to Covid-19 pandemic. Sessions and hearings were held during business hours, limiting public participation.
Moreover, cutbacks at media outlets have led to limited or no coverage in recent years.
Forced to meet virtually for the first time ever, both Delaware General Assembly chambers began live-streaming video to YouTube in May 2020. Last January, those live streams were made available directly on the General Assembly website for the first time, with a hybrid option put into use in May.
Republicans have been unhappy with the system and called for in-person sessions, with some GOP legislators downplaying the risks of Covid.
Committee meetings held outside the legislative chambers have been conducted exclusively via Zoom throughout the pandemic.
In a release, Democratic legisltors said committee hearings resulted in record participation rates. Virtual committee meetings routinely drew more than 50 members of the public, while several drew more than 100, and a few surpassed 500 participants.
Republicans claimed the majority party limited discussions on key issues.
With the Legislature hoping to return in person in 2022, both chambers plan to launch a hybrid model that preserves the virtual participation option while also accommodating in-person public participants at the same time.
Chances returning to normal early in the session have been clouded by a recent outreak of Covid-19 cases.
With the recent installation of monitors and camera equipment in six hearing rooms, future committee meetings can now be held in a hybrid format, giving Delawareans who wish to offer public testimony more flexibility than ever before, Democrats said.
“Virtual committee meetings were a necessary function during the pandemic to allow the Legislature to continue operating while giving residents the ability to still participate in the government process. What we found was that people liked the convenience of being able to attend committee meetings and provide comment online. We saw the proof in record committee attendance and participation during the past year,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf.
“We recognized the vast improvement in transparency and convenience that the online meetings provided to working Delawareans. Currently, we are planning to return to in-person committee meetings, but by offering an online option, we are combining both worlds as we continue to modernize our legislative process.”
“We all long for normalcy, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t retain some of the things we learned during the pandemic. When we made virtual participation possible for Delawareans, we increased interest in the legislative process, got more robust feedback on critical legislation, and made it possible for stakeholders to seamlessly move from one virtual committee hearing to another,” said Senate President Pro Tempore David P. Sokola. “For those who miss being back in the building, we can’t wait to welcome you back as public health protocols permit. But for those who appreciated having the flexibility to participate in the legislative process on your lunch break or as you were picking up the kids at school, that accessibility will remain in place.”
While a decision about an in-person return to Legislative Hall – and the use of a hybrid virtual/in-person committee hearings – will depend on the public health guidance as of early January, the public will be able to watch committee hearings live and later playback recordings of the proceedings on the General Assembly website.
The General Assembly will return to session on January 11, 2022.