A Dover state senator says too many bills are being pushed through the General Assembly too quickly and it’s not a great way to govern.
That doesn’t leave time for thoughtful debate or even for the public to talk to their own representatives about how they feel, said Eric Buckson, R-Dover.
He was elected to the Senate last November, beating longtime Sen. Colin Bonini after serving on the Kent County Levy Board.
“If you’re going to make a change that impacts all Delawareans, in a significant way, good or bad, there needs to be an opportunity, I think, for constituents to be brought into the mix and allowed to share their thoughts with their elected officials,” Buckson said.
“To say, well they can show on less than 24 hours notice to a hearing, I think it doesn’t speak to transparency. It doesn’t speak to good governance.”
Not everyone agrees.
Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said he had not discussed the issue with Buckson but doesn’t think the time it takes for bills to go from committee to floors is too quick.
“There are some pieces of legislation that have to be moved quickly for whatever reason. We have processes in place for that.” Pettyjohn said. “It doesn’t happen all the time…and that’s something about Delaware. If there’s legislation that needs to be moved quickly from committee to the floor, it can happen and the committee process is there to garner the public input.”
Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, said in a written statement that Democrats will work to pass more legislation.
“Sen. Buckson openly calls for the General Assembly only to pass a small fraction of its standard portfolio, and at a slower pace,” Townsend said. “Senate Democrats, however, believe Delawareans deserve dynamic, responsive government to meet the opportunities and challenges in communities across our diverse state. There is no magic number of bills that we aim for, nor an artificial timetable for passing legislation.”
Buckson cited three bills he’s been upset with.
One, a Senate bill to create a committee to advise the state on retiree health insurance, was a bipartisan bill.
The others were House bills that would decriminalize marijuana and then set up a legal marijuana industry in Delaware.
They were sponsored by a Democrat who’s been introducing versions of them for years. The decriminalization bills made it through the Senate and the House last year, with the help of a couple of Republican votes, but was vetoed by Gov. John
Delaware’s General Assembly is dominated by Democrats, who have a supermajority in the Senate with 15 Democrats and six Republicans. That allows Senate Democrats to pass any bill they want.
The House has 26 Democrats and 15 Republicans. Democrats can pass bills there if they only require a simple majority. But they need to reach across the aisle for help on tax and fee bills, which require a ⅗ vote, or amending municipal charters, which require a ⅔ vote
Buckson has mentioned the fast pace of the bills in the Senate and in committees and asked his colleagues to consider slowing down. It’s had no impact.
He also released a video in January complaining about the way that the legislature passes bills.
In the video, Buckson said he voted against Senate Bill 29, which created a State Employee Benefits subcommittee, because of the speed it passed through the legislature.
Supporters of that bill emphasized it needed to pass quickly so the subcommittee could get to work.
That bill was designed to allow the legislature and others to weigh in on a state attempt to move retirees into a Medicare Advantage plan. Retirees felt like it was done in secret and that the new plan was inferior to the plan they’ve always had.
The subcommittee bill was debated in the Senate Executive committee on Jan. 18 and was voted on by the Senate as a whole later that same day.
On the House side, the bill was talked about in the House Administration committee on Jan. 24 then voted in the House on Jan. 26. The governor signed it into law that day.
Buckson sees less of an issue with the House going through bills quickly because they deal with a lot more bills.
“The Senate is supposed to be a more deliberative process,” Buckson said. “It takes time to make a good take or good law…Maybe on the House side, it may be too slow with all the things they have to work, but on the Senate side, I think that’s our role.”
Several other bills this session have also had a day or less turnaround between being heard in a committee hearing and being voted on by the General Assembly:
- Senate Bill 28, which involves renewing dentistry licenses.
- House Bill 49, which involves the payments people received for unemployment benefits.
- House Bill 25, which involves how state tax rebates are characterized.
None of them were contentious.
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