The General Assembly will move ahead with in-person sessions one day a week in January, despite the presence of the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola announced Friday that House and Senate committees will meet virtually via Zoom in January, continuing the policy undertaken last year. Members of the public will be able to remotely attend all virtual committee meetings and deliver comments on pending legislation.
Republican legislators who do not set General Assembly practices, have been critical of restrictions claiming that the technology limits public participation. Majority Democrats said the opposite is true.
Delaware had been slow to stream or broadcast sessions and committee meetings over the years, but was forced to do so by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Delaware did avoid legislative Covid outbreaks that occurred in other states, including Pennsylvania, where Republicans held the majority and insisted on in-person sessions.
Links to register for each meeting will be posted on the General Assembly’s website. Scheduling information, agendas and other pertinent details also will be posted on the Committee Meetings pages for each chamber.
“While I miss the normal activity of Legislative Hall, ensuring the health and safety of legislators, staff and the public is a top priority,” said Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. “Additionally, the work of the General Assembly is critical, and we want to reduce the chances of an outbreak, which could potentially cripple the operations of this branch of government. There are reasonable steps we can take in the short-term to protect everyone and continue our work. I am hopeful that this latest spike is temporary, and we will re-evaluate our plan for session before we return in March.”
Both the House and Senate will meet in person at Legislative Hall on Thursdays to consider legislative agendas during January. On session days, a limited number of seats in the gallery of each chamber will be available to members of the public on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors to Legislative Hall will open one hour before voting is scheduled to begin on those days. Members of the public and legislators will be required to wear a mask while in Legislative Hall. Members of the public needing special accommodations can contact Scott Goss at 302-744-4180.
Legislative proceedings will continue to be broadcast online via the General Assembly website, as was the case last year.
Access to the remainder of the building will be restricted. Members of the public will not have access to the wings of the building or the legislative library. The cafeteria will remain closed. The restrictions limit lobbyists and members of the public who were used to having access to legislators.
“I think every one of us had hoped the pandemic outlook and the format of our legislative session would be different this January, but the sudden spike in Covid cases combined with the highly contagious nature of the Omicron pandemic demands that we take steps to protect our continuity of governance,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Sokola, D-Newark “Fortunately, staff and legislators have worked hard over the last two years to make sure we can continue to consider legislation, allow public comment and work to improve the lives of Delaware’s working families while meeting virtually. My sincere hope is we can revisit these policies later in the year, but for now we all need to make decisions that protect the health and welfare of our guests and employees.”