Legislators braced for session’s last day marathon

Wearing his famous Oscar The Grouch necktie, Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover) poses a question during a Senate debate on the last night of the General Assembly of 2015. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Wearing his famous Oscar The Grouch necktie, Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover) poses a question during a Senate debate on the last night of the General Assembly of 2015. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Pedaling 16 mph for just under two hours, 45 minutes, Gov. Jack Markell bicycled toward the longest work night of the year on Tuesday.

The governor burned 2,765 calories during his two-wheeled trek from Lewes to Dover, exercising his way into heightened energy and stress relief before the current General Assembly’s last session day at Legislative Hall.

Another June 30 had arrived, and the governor gathered his thoughts while briskly heading north from the beach.

At 3 p.m., he and the staff gathered for a traditional meal; everyone provided a certain food from within Delaware. This year it was fried chicken; barbecue and pizza the previous two — and had a fun contest to determine who brought the best.

While Gov. Markell was satisfied that priorities cited in his State of the State address six months ago were accomplished, bond bill and capital budget issues still were subject to debate, making a relatively quick finale unlikely.

The overnight session figured to be a long one, but ultimately productive, he said.

“June 30 is the culmination of a lot of work by a lot of people in both chambers, in both parties,” Gov. Markell said.

Between taking eight constituent calls before 10 a.m., Sen. David Lawson, R-Marydel, spent part of Tuesday gathering squash and peppers from his vegetable garden.

Oh, and some chocolate mint flavored plants as well.

The Republican state senator would show his gratitude to a lot of folks later in the day.

Keeping with tradition, Sen. Lawson distributed his harvest to what he described as “dynamite” Republican and Senate staffers and Comptroller’s Office members who keep state legislators moving forward behind the scenes.

“It’s one thing to be in a senate seat, but you wouldn’t be there long if (the staff) didn’t carry the load when it comes to providing us information and keeping us current on a variety of issues that need attention.

“Every year I give them a small token of appreciation with vegetables from the garden; it’s a little hokey, but comes from the heart.”

Yes, months of lawmaking, legislating and debate were set to conclude Tuesday night in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.

Rep. Quinn Johnson, D-Middletown, prepared for the equivalent of a 12- to 16-hour work day and expected to be “both physically and emotionally exhausted from the difficult decisions we’ve made.

“It’s very challenging to know that what you’re doing will leave some people not very happy.”

Longing for the time available during one of the bill days of March and April, Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, compared June 30 to college students cramming the night before final exams and “at the end it’s not a healthy situation.”

By the projected dizzying end sometime early Wednesday morning, Sen. Bonini expected to have worked with “a mix of personalities and a lack of sleep.

“I will tell you that everyone is trying to do the right thing. June 30 is kind of its own sub-culture, and that sub-culture does not benefit the taxpayer.”

An Oscar the Grouch tie got the nod over an Elvis tie this year, Sen. Bonini said with some jocularity because,

“The Democrats killed Elvis this year due to a lack of cooperation. He’s not in the building this year.”

That’s not to say that legislative progress wasn’t made before June 30 elapsed, according to Sen. Bonini.

“One thing about Delaware is that we’re not just colleagues but friends and can accomplishing a lot through understanding each other, but it’s also hard to say no,” Sen. Bonini said.

With so many moving parts on the final night, Sen. Bonini said, “I would wish that every Delawarean attended at least one June 30 session in their lifetime.”

Accomplishing a lot

Before reporting for duty at Legislative Hall early Tuesday afternoon, first-year Rep. Sean Lynn, D-Dover, was the lawyer representing some children’s interests in Kent County Family Court.

“After protecting children this morning, anything else I do (for the rest of the day) is icing on the cake,” he said.

A lot of state interest work was ahead and Rep. Lynn said, “It’s almost ironic that there’s a lighthearted and somewhat festive atmosphere given the seriousness of the proceedings,” inside Legislative Hall.

Heading into his third June 30 session, Rep. Trey Paradee, D-Cheswold, said recent finales haven’t approximated legendary high jinks that closed sessions 20 to 30 years ago.

“It’s not as exciting as the colorful stories of days gone by,” Rep. Paradee said. “Honestly, it’s kind of boring (comparatively).”

When the final gavel drops, there’s a sense of relief and excitement, he said. The long hours are taxing, but everyone knows the deal beforehand and prepares.

“There’s a lot of coffee involved,” he said. “You just bear down with it, go with the flow and hope it ends quickly.”

Prior to the final day and ensuing morning, Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton, enjoyed extra time with his wife and his 15-month-old son who’s just now learning to walk.

The representative knew that many hours awaited in the final push, and an exhaustive stretch would slow his tendency to work the room when the house was in session and bills were before its members.

“We’re all tired at the end and different people handle it in different ways,” Rep. Spiegelman said. “I sit down in my seat a lot more instead of walking around and talking to people so much.”

‘Blood, tears, laughter’

Parting with staff and party members for a while was bittersweet, Rep. Spiegelman said, because “we shed blood, we shed tears, we shared laughter together” and there’s now an extended time of separation coming.

Among legislators, Rep. Spiegelman said he was troubled by a lack of cooperation between parties regarding issues such as fee increases for the Department of Motor Vehicles  and prevailing wage negotiations.

“I’ve never seen such partisanship,” he said. “For the first time since 2008, one ruling party has had to compromise with the other and it’s not going well.”

Rep. Spiegelman joked that he was “putting on his war paint and sharpening his tomahawk” as final votes on the state budget and bond bill were upcoming in the House and Senate.

One thing was for sure — the representative would appreciate three- sentence introductions to proposed bills that everyone seemingly agrees on instead of any grandstanding as they are introduced.

“It’s June 30 and it’s late,” he said. “The time for five-minute speeches describing a bill was in March and if it’s apparent now that no objections are upcoming, we need to vote quickly and efficiently.”

After staying up until approximately 3 a.m. Tuesday to study all the bills ahead, Rep. Lynn surely had the approval of Rep. Spiegelman in being well read and ready to act on the issues.

Even so, Rep. Lynn said, “It’s unwieldy to save so much of the work until the last day and takes a Herculean effort” by all to work through the agendas.

For Sen. Lawson, the end of lawmaking for awhile was “a two-edged sword because you sort of look back to see what the body has done and (evaluate) in retrospect how to do it better the next time.”

As to the longish, overnight hours, Sen. Lawson said he’d worked plenty of night shifts while in the military and law enforcement. Physically, he could handle the marathon session, but wasn’t so confident about the emotional side of it all.

“It’s more mentally exhausting because you’re trying to sort out whose playing games, how and when they are playing games,” he said.

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