Proposed human resources agency sparks political fight

John Carney

DOVER — Two months into his tenure, Gov. John Carney announced he would push for a dedicated human resources agency, something the state has lacked since the State Personnel Office was split up in 2005.

On Monday, after several months of planning, legislation that would create a Department of Human Resources was filed.

One day later, a similar bill was introduced — an unusual case of competing bills.

Complicating matters, both bills are sponsored by Democrats and the two main backers had conflicting comments on the subject.

Senate Bill 2, the first to be introduced, would shift portions of the Office of Management and Budget to the new agency, giving the director of the department broad powers “to supervise and direct all human resources and benefits employees in executive branch agencies.”

House Bill 4 would accomplish something similar, but it would also create in the Department of Human Resources an Office of Women’s Advancement and Advocacy dedicated to promoting gender equality.

Often, when legislators are drafting proposals dealing with identical topics, they work together and introduce their ideas as one bill. But in this case, the main backers of the two proposals said they worked closely with the governor’s office, and each legislator believes their measure should be the one to go through.

Sen. Nicole Poore, a New Castle Democrat who introduced Senate Bill 2, said her proposal is unchanged from a draft handed down by the governor’s office. It also has historical precedent on its side, she noted.

“Historically, when you’re creating a department and you have to nominate a cabinet secretary, they have started in the Senate,” Sen. Poore said.

House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Bear Democrat, is the lead sponsor of House Bill 4. Asked why she thought another bill had been filed, she said she was unsure.

“You’d have to ask them,” she said of the senators backing Senate Bill 2. “All I know is I’ve been working on this bill for about two months with the governor’s office and OMB, so I filed the bill that I worked on with them. Obviously, it’s 60-some pages, so there’s a lot of technical issues. I think the bill that’s over there is a first draft of a bill.”

When the question of which bill Gov. Carney prefers was broached to the governor’s office, Gov. Carney avoided stepping into the issue, saying in a statement he is “confident that leadership in the Delaware House and Senate will work together to pass legislation to create this new department and help us deal with” inclusion.

Supporters say both bills would promote diversity and focus on combating inequities in state government — something that has been under the microscope since a 2016 announcement by then-Gov. Jack Markell of a review of racism in state agencies. That analysis has not been completed.

Neither of the two bills, sponsors claim, would add costs as they simply reorganize government agencies.

Both Sen. Poore and Rep. Longhurst said they partnered with Gov. Carney’s office, although Rep. Longhurst said she was initially unaware Senate Bill 2 was being drafted.

“She filed a bill and didn’t tell me about it. She knew I was working on a bill, so I don’t know,” she said when asked if she planned to speak to Sen. Poore about the dueling proposals.

Sen. Poore said she is supportive of the proposed Office of Women’s Advancement and Advocacy in Rep. Longhurst’s bill but “whether or not it ends up being a separate bill or stay on, I guess we’ll see.”

Senate Bill 2 passed the Senate 20-1 Thursday, and House Bill 4 is set to be heard in the House Administration Committee Wednesday.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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