The 148th General Assembly, by the numbers

Bethany Hall Long

Bethany Hall Long

DOVER — The 148th General Assembly is over, and the numbers are in. The two-year session, consisting of 87 regularly scheduled days and three special-session days, saw 1,049 bills and resolutions introduced.

The number of measures is split almost perfectly evenly between 2015 and 2016: 535 proposals were filed last year, while 514 were introduced in 2016.

From Jan. 13, 2015, to July 1, 2016, no lawmaker was responsible for more legislation than Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown. She served as the main sponsor of 46 pieces of legislation, nearly all of them health-related.

Because the legislative website only lists the bills each individual was the primary sponsor of rather than all proposals a lawmaker introduced or co-sponsored, a tally of the number of bills filed by each legislator is not the only way to measure the session and should not be used on its own to judge the productivity of a senator or representative.

Additionally, not all legislation is created equal. Considerably more time, for instance, was spent debating Senate Bill 40, a controversial proposal to repeal the death penalty, than Senate Bill 109, a minor change to South Bethany’s charter that passed without objection by both chambers less than a month after being filed.

Despite those limitations, the count does provide a basic look at the 148th General Assembly.

While the legislature has 62 members, the tally includes 63 lawmakers — Rep. Michael Barbieri, D-Newark, resigned after the first leg of the session to become the director of the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. His aide, David Bentz, won a September special election for the seat.

Stricken items and substitute bills were all counted, so House Bill 171, House Substitute 1 for House Bill 171 and House Substitute 2 for House Bill 171 are recorded as three separate items sponsored by Rep. Andria Bennett, D-Dover.

While a low number of bills filed is not necessarily an indication of inactivity, the number introduced in 2015 and 2016 varied greatly from lawmaker to lawmaker.

Bryan Townsend

Bryan Townsend

Sen. Hall-Long sponsored the most legislation, but a couple of Democrats came close. Sen. Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, introduced 45 items, Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, filed 44 and House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, was responsible for 40.

The highest-ranking Republican on the list is Rep. Joseph Miro of Pike Creek Valley.

For a legislator running for re-election, number of proposals introduced is a quick measure that can be used in an attempt to demonstrate what he or she has done on behalf of constituents. Sen. Townsend, who is seeking the state’s open seat in the U.S. House, has cited his high volume of bills and resolutions in campaign literature, for instance.

Joseph Miro

Joseph Miro

He is not the only prolific senator seeking higher office: Sen. Hall-Long is campaigning for lieutenant governor.

She said the number is an acknowledgment of her work as chairwoman of the Senate Health and County Affairs committees and as a member of several health-related task forces.

“I’m just very proud of some of the major pieces of legislation that we accomplished this year,” she said, citing bills to create a health care claims database, establish a Drug Overdose Fatality Review Commission and provide more resources for adults in need of care.

Analysis and attendance

Lobbyist Bob Byrd, who served two terms in the Delaware House in the 1970s, said it is not an accident the leading members of each chamber appear on the list of busiest legislators.

“If you can get leadership to be involved in your issue that’s always a good thing, and the administration always leans on leadership to sponsor things,” he said

At the other end of the tally, the late Rep. Harold “Jack” Peterman, R-Milford, who missed most the session with health issues, did not introduce a single proposal. He died Wednesday at the age of 74.

Rep. Harvey Kenton, R-Milford, was responsible for one bill, and Rep. Ronald Gray, R-Selbyville; Rep. William “Bobby” Outten, R-Harrington; Rep. John Viola, D-Newark; and Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel, filed four apiece.

The minority party traditionally sees less action, both because it has fewer members and because legislation from its members often goes against ideologies held by the majority and thus is left untouched.

The situation has changed, however, from days of yore when “the minority bills didn’t even make the floor,” Mr. Byrd said.

Forty of the legislature’s members did not miss a single regularly scheduled day. Of the 22 legislators who were recorded as absent at least once, seven failed to attend on only one occasion.

Rep. Peterman was in attendance 32 of 87 days due to health issues. Suffering from pinched nerves and later prostate cancer, he missed all of June 2015 and was present for just four days in 2016.

Rep. Bennett was absent for 15 days, second-most among the legislature. She missed seven consecutive legislative days in January because of an operation.

Third in days missed is Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, who was not present on six occasions.

The four most active lawmakers by number of measures introduced all had perfect attendance.

Although Sen. Hall-Long proposed the most legislation cumulatively during the 148th General Assembly, she did not file the highest number in either leg. That recognition belongs to Sen. Townsend in 2015, with 23 measures, and Sen. Blevins in 2016, with 27.

The governor has signed 331 bills and resolutions as of Aug. 1, while 31 measures were still awaiting action from him. Most of the acts have been approved this year rather than in 2015.

Legislation is signed in spurts, based on Gov. Jack Markell’s schedule and whether the sponsor requests a special ceremony.

Some resolutions, which do not have the force of law, are not signed by the governor. These include proposals honoring a distinguished visitor or naming a week after a person, group or cause, for instance.

While more than 1,000 bills and resolutions may sound like a lot, it pales in comparison to other state legislatures.

At the federal level, Congress has seen at least 10,000 measures proposed every session since the late 1990s.

The number of bills introduced in a two-year span in Delaware has dropped precipitously since the 1970s, according to Mr. Byrd.

During his time in office, bill numbers typically went up to around 1,200 in the House and 700 in the Senate, he said.

He attributes that partially to the increasing tenure of legislators. Ten members of the General Assembly have been in office for at least two decades, which Mr. Byrd said represents a departure from much of the legislature’s history. At the time he was elected in 1974, four lawmakers had been in the building for more than 20 years.

Lawmakers who have been around for years have more clout and are able to influence the state through serving on the powerful finance and bond committees, as well as running other committees, rather than directly using legislation, Mr. Byrd said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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