Lawmaker Wants All General Assembly Action to be Available Online

Posted on 02-16-2020

As the 150th General Assembly prepares to resume action next week, one lawmaker is proposing a fundamental change to the way it currently does business.

State Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek Valley, is introducing legislation that calls for audio and video of all General Assembly proceedings — House and Senate floor action and committee meetings — to be streamed live online. Additionally, the proposal calls for all the content to be archived and accessible via the internet.

Presently, only audio of the House and Senate floor deliberations is streamed online, and none of the content is available on the internet. The overwhelming majority of committee meetings are not streamed or digitally recorded in any fashion.

Rep. Smith says the General Assembly conducts most of its business during Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons, when most working Delawareans cannot easily travel to Legislative Hall or listen to the live streams.

States like Minnesota and Louisiana have streamed and archived their legislative proceedings for many years. Rep. Smith says having Delaware join their ranks will improve accountability and help build public trust in the General Assembly.

A House Concurrent Resolution sponsored by Rep. Smith directs the Division of Research, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Delaware Department of Technology & Information to cooperate in creating a detailed plan to implement General Assembly streaming and archiving.

The plan would include the required equipment, software, infrastructure, and training needed for the project, as well as its total cost. The study would be due no later than January 2021, so the budget-wiring Joint Finance Committee could include financing for the initiative in the FY 2022 budget.

Rep. Smith is circulating his resolution for sponsorship and plans to file it late next week. He says he hopes it gains broad, bipartisan support. “This is a transparency and accountability issue, and that’s something that, regardless of what party you’re with, you should be able to get behind,” he said.

“The technology to do this is more affordable and accessible than it has ever been,” Rep. Smith said. “There is no reason why we shouldn’t be doing this.”

Rep. Smith says most Delawareans turn to online sources when seeking news and information. “Most people are looking at content on their cell phones, their tablets, and their laptops. They expect their legislature to be easily accessible online, too.

“It’s astounding to me we haven’t done this already,” Rep. Smith said. “It’s something the people of Delaware want and it’s something that we, as legislators, should have given them a long time ago.”

High-Profile Bills Await
Consideration of Returning Lawmakers

The second half of the two-year 150th General Assembly begins Tuesday as lawmakers return to Legislative Hall in Dover.

When legislators recessed on July 1st, they left many high-profile bills pending action. Here is a quick recap of some of those measures:

Minimum Wage
Senate Bill 105 seeks to make annual hikes to the state’s minimum wage, topping out at $15 per hour on January 1, 2024. Under the bill, the wage would be automatically raised after that in concert with increases linked to a specific consumer price index.
Status: Pending action in the Senate Finance Committee.

NOTE: Delaware just raised its minimum wage to $9.25 on October 1st.

Legalizing Recreational Marijuana
House Bill 110 (the Delaware Marijuana Control Act) seeks to make recreational marijuana legal in The First State.
Status: Pending action in the House Appropriations Committee.

NOTE: A version of this bill was voted on by the House of Representatives in June 2018, when it received a majority vote of 21 to 15. It failed to clear the chamber because the bill would have created new fees — an action that requires a three-fifths super-majority vote (25 votes in the House) for passage. The new incarnation of the bill still requires a three-fifths vote. The membership of the House has changed since 2018.

Restoration of the Death Penalty
About three-and-a-half years ago, the Delaware Supreme Court struck down Delaware’s capital punishment law because an earlier decision by the U.S. Supreme Court made aspects of the statute unconstitutional. House Bill 165 (the Extreme Crimes Protection Act) addresses the issues cited by the High Court and would restore capital punishment as an option for Delaware prosecutors.
Status: Pending action in the House Judiciary Committee.

NOTE: This bill passed the House of Representatives in the last General Assembly, but was bottled-up in a Senate committee by its chairperson. That lawmaker is not a member of the current 150th General Assembly.

Physician-assisted Suicide
House Bill 140 (The Ron Silverio/Heather Block End of Life Options Law) seeks to create a multi-step process that would allow terminally ill Delawareans, with less than six months to live, to obtain and self-administer a lethal dosage of medication. The proposal has three sponsors and three co-sponsors.
Status: Pending action in the House Health & Human Development Committee.

“Assault Weapons” Ban
Referred to as an assault weapons ban, Senate Substitute 1 for Senate Bill 68 seeks to prohibit the sale of dozens of specific makes and models of semi-automatic rifles, shotguns, and handguns in Delaware. It would also ban weapons with a combination of specified functional or aesthetic attributes. Those features include a folding stock; the length of the weapon; a flash suppressor; and certain types of pistol grips.
Status: Pending action in the Senate Executive Committee.

Banning “Large- Capacity” Firearms’ Magazines
Senate Bill 70 is called the Delaware Large Capacity Magazine Prohibition Act of 2019.
It seeks to ban the sale and ownership of any firearms’ magazines in Delaware with a capacity of more than 15 rounds of ammunition. Some common semi-automatic rifles and handguns already owned by Delawareans have standard magazines that exceed the threshold set forth in the bill. The bill would establish a buy-back program for non-conforming magazines, compensating owners $10 per magazine.
Status: Pending action in the Senate Executive Committee.

Permit to Purchase Firearms
Under Senate Bill 82 (which replaced Senate Bill 69), Delawareans would need to acquire a “handgun qualified purchaser card” to purchase a handgun, or a ‘firearms qualified purchaser card” to buy rifles or shotguns. Obtaining the appropriate card would require applicants to complete a firearms training course. The bill would also create a database of all firearm sales and transfers that would be accessible by law enforcement agencies and the court system.
Individuals with concealed carry permits would be exempt from the bill’s requirements.
Status: Pending action in the Senate Executive Committee.

Creation of a Water Project Trust Fund
House Bill 200 seeks to divert a minimum of $25 million annually from revenue generated by four existing taxes for a new Water Project Trust Fund. Those funds would be spent on programs related to water quality, water supply, drainage, stormwater management, and flood control. In published reports, Gov. John Carney has expressed reservations about the bill based on its revenue earmarks. The bill has 33 of the General Assembly’s 62 members listed a sponsors or co-sponsors.
Status: Pending action in the House Appropriations Committee.