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Coronavirus Government Legislation News

General Assembly to resume session digitally May 26

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DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER ⁠— After a two-month hiatus, the Delaware General Assembly will resume its session virtually May 26. The first order of business: Pass a resolution to hold session over video-streaming services. 

Moving forward, the plan is to hold session via Zoom and livestream it over YouTube. A link will be posted on the General Assembly’s website and broadcast on each caucus’s Facebook page. 

The House of Representatives is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m. May 26 to vote on the concurrent resolution, and the State Senate is set to do the same at 4:30 p.m. May 27. 

There will be trial runs to ensure virtual streaming goes smoothly, as some lawmakers live in areas with spotty internet access. To eliminate any security issues, legislators will use their government-issued computers and will work closely with tech support. 

“I am looking forward to the day where I can shake everyone’s hand again,” House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf said in Thursday’s press briefing. “While we may not be in Dover, we’re still doing our jobs.” 

Public participation will be extremely limited to calling or emailing lawmakers. But Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride stressed that the public can still rely on their representatives to be their voices. 

“We’re the only state that allows citizens to come on the floor and testify on bills. Unfortunately, in this situation, we’re not able to do that,” McBride said. “[Through this pandemic] our goal has always been to [resume session] as correctly as we can and to include legislators, staff and the public.” 

The Delaware General Assembly is in a unique position, since until recently it was required to hold session in Legislative Hall in Dover. But after the building caught fire years ago, lawmakers amended the state Constitution in 2018 to allow for alternative meeting locations during emergencies. 

Language in the amendment includes public health emergencies, and further legal advice helped pave the way to virtual meetings. 

After passing the concurrent resolution on virtual meeting guidelines, the next priority will be Delaware’s spending plan. With tax filings delayed to July, the state will be missing some of the millions in income tax factored in the fiscal year 2020 budget. Schwartzkopf estimated the state was looking at a $680 million deficit. 

Looking ahead, Gov. John Carney proposed a record-setting $4.63 billion operating budget and an $893 million capital budget appropriation. 

“We’ll have to fix 2020 first before we move any further… there’s going to be a lot of heartburn trying to put [the FY 2021 budget] together,” Schwartzkopf said. 

The Joint Finance Committee will meet in-person in the House Chamber beginning in the first week of June, and those meetings will be audio-streamed as well. Lawmakers must wear face masks and have their temperatures checked at the front door. Anyone with a temperature above 99 degrees will be sent home, officials said.

By Katie Tabeling 

[email protected] 

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