UPDATE: The Delaware General Assembly’s bill tracker was amended around 5 p.m. to say SB15 was reported out of committee with three favorable and one “on its merits” votes.
The Delaware Senate Labor Committee left listeners hanging after a two-hour hearing on a proposed hike in minimum wage when the meeting was adjourned without even mention of taking a vote to table the bill or move it to the full Senate.
Senate Bill 15 was already listed on the full Senate agenda for Thursday before the hearing took place, Carrie Leishman, the head of the Delaware Restaurant Association, pointed out in her comments during the virtual hearing.
Instead of a vote, the committee is “walking the bill around.”
That means taking it to each committee member and asking him or her to sign the back of the bill, and then presenting the bill to the full Senate without a public vote, said Scott Goss, Senate Democrat communications director.
Both the Senate and House have rules saying that the committee members must sign the backs of the bills, he said. A bill that gets enough signatures from committee members gets out of committee to the Senate or House floor.
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The House almost always holds voice or hand-raising votes at the end of a committee meeting. he noted.
“That action is purely ceremonial and may not always correspond to how, or if they sign, the backer,” Goss said. “In the Senate, taking such action is at the discretion of the chair and most chairs do not entertain those non-binding votes.”
In the Senate, the committee chair — in this case, Sen. Jack Walsh, D-Stanton — or their staff person will walk around collecting signatures on the back of the physical bill, he said.
“Once everyone has signed or declined, it gets delivered to the Senate Secretary who then records the outcome and posts it on the website,” he said. “Since we’re in a virtual format, the committee members send an email to the chair communicating their ‘signature’ and that email chain gets sent to the Secretary.”
He said it can take minutes to days for that to happen, and sometimes it doesn’t, which is one way a bill can get “stuck in committee.”
Goss speculated the results of the signature gathering will be posted on the online link to the bill
within a few hours.
The lack of an online vote frustrated Leishman.
“The testimony today meant very little as the Senate already published the bill for a full vote,” she said after the meeting ended. “The hearing truly was just to appease very real and heartfelt opposition to a bill that is being shoved down the restaurant industry’s throats.”
Restaurants have suffered unlike no other business sector with well over 10,000 of our restaurant workers still unemployed, she said during her testimony and after the hearing.
“Restaurants are asked every day to hire our teenagers and those looking for flexibility and experience in entry level jobs,” she said. “We are the state’s training ground and all who work for us have the opportunity to gain valuable skills and move up or onto other career paths.
“Our Senators should champion the restoration of our workforce before attempts to reform wages.”
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.