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Delaware lawmakers met late to wrap up session; retiring McDowell sought votes on energy bill

Retiring Sen. Harris McDowell has emailed colleagues seeking support Tuesday for his renewable energy bill.

Delaware’s finance bills successfully passed through both the Senate and House of Representatives and on Tuesday were signed by Gov. John Carney.

But the 2019-2020 session didn’t end until late Tuesday night with a final House June 30, beginning at 11:45 p.m.

Legislators were asked to be online by 11:15 p.m. to begin the vetting process, which took place before every virtual meeting. The Senate met Tuesday night, beginning at 10:30 p.m.

The Senate feted Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilimington, and chair of the Senate Energy Committee, who is retiring this year. He had emailed colleagues Monday, asking them to support his SB 250 Tuesday.

That controversial bill would extend the Renewable Energy Portfolio through 2035 and implement the “Community Sustainable Energy Authorities Act” authorizing “incorporated municipalities, towns, and counties and the Delaware Sustainable Energy Utility to create authorities to develop, promote, and operate community sustainable energy projects.”

McDowell, who is retiring this year after 44 years in the House, has said the move would allow more solar energy to be developed with the consumer as the producer and also give local governments more control. Opponents say it would ultimately increase costs for utility services and consumers.

The House session was live-streamed on Delaware Live and can be found here.

Traditionally, Delaware’s General Assembly has met in the late hours of June 30 each year to attempt to pass some of the last bills on their docket. A new session will begin in January 2021, and that means bills that did not pass by Tuesday night must be reintroduced in January and begin the approval process from scratch. Nothing rolls over into the next two-year session.

Delaware’s Constitution says that the legislative session ends each calendar year on June 30. But legislators also have the power to assemble that evening and open a special session at 12:01 a.m. July 1.

Some legislators want to change the 11th-hour meetings.

“Our last day is structured and delayed so that we have bills remaining to be worked after midnight,” State House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford.  said in a press conference last year while presenting a bill to stop it. “Sometimes we find ourselves dealing with controversial measures deep in the wee hours when most of the public is asleep. That was the case last year when a minimum wage bill was run through the House at 3:40 a.m.”

His bill, HB 136, proposed a constitutional amendment requiring lawmakers to end business on the last legislative day of the session by 7 p.m.

“This simple change would largely fix this,” he said then.

It was introduced May 2, 2019 and assigned to the Administration Committee in the House, where it has yet to come up for debate in a Democrat-controlled House.

McDowell’s bill was not liked by the Delaware Municipal Electric Corp. DEMEC has publicly opposed this legislation, along with other energy providers, claiming the bill will have unknown costs.

“Now is not the time to impose legislation without the input of customers – those who are most affected,” DEMEC said in a June 16 release. “The economy is fragile. Businesses and citizens are already struggling. It is irresponsible of the legislature to impose more costs on them now.”

For up-to-date information on Delaware’s legislative activity, go to the General Assembly online at https://legis.delaware.gov/.

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