Republicans file bills they say would boost transparency

DOVER — Republican lawmakers on Thursday announced a package of bills designed to increase transparency and accountability in state government.

The measures, which they said several times are not intended to be partisan, include proposals that failed last year, new legislation and a bill introduced by a Democrat in February.

“The Republicans are here, and we’re ready to govern,” Rep. Mike Ramone, of Pike Creek Valley, said at a news conference revealing the legislation. “Partisan politics is over, the elections are done. Let us govern this state.”

Three items in the package were unsuccessfully introduced by Republicans in the prior legislative session. One would mandate candidates for elected office disclose if they are behind on their taxes, while another would give the Public Integrity Commission and the state auditor greater authority to oversee politicians who hold other government jobs and ensure they are not being paid for both positions at the same time.

“Double-dipping” has been an issue at times in the past, with scrutiny both from within and without the legislature falling on lawmakers who perform other duties for the state — and thus are paid by taxpayers for two jobs. From 2009 until he was defeated in a primary in 2012, Tony DeLuca worked as an administrator in the Delaware Office of Labor Law Enforcement while leading the Senate as president pro tempore, a fact that rankled opposing Republicans, good government advocates and even some Democrats, members of his own party.

Currently, about half a dozen lawmakers work for the state. A few more are employed by organizations or institutions that get some public funding but are not state entities.

The third measure announced Thursday that is based on legislation filed last year would require the General Assembly to wait at least 48 hours after the introduction of the operating budget, capital budget and grant-in-aid bills before voting on them.

It’s not uncommon for the legislature to approve at least some of those three, often referred to as the money bills, on the last day of session, much to the chagrin of many. The bond bill, for instance, was first voted on last year at 4:30 a.m. on July 1.

“Anybody that’s going to have an interest in the state, whether elected or not, should have the ability to see financial bills before we vote on them,” said Rep. Ruth Briggs King, who represents the Georgetown area and is the bill’s chief sponsor.

One of the items endorsed by the GOP is a measure filed by Rep. Andria Bennett, a Dover Democrat, seven weeks ago that would make allocations through the Community Transportation Fund program public.

Every year, CTF provides each lawmaker a sum of money — $350,000 this fiscal year — intended for road projects, although it can also be used for things only tangentially related to transportation, such as all-terrain vehicles for first responders.

Another bill would create an incentive program to reward state employees who come up with usable ideas to improve efficiency and processes in Delaware government, while the other three revealed Thursday deal with legislative procedures.

One measure would change House rules to mandate a three-fifths supermajority to suspend the rules. Currently, lawmakers can send bills directly to the floor, skipping committee hearings, with a simple majority, meaning the minority caucus is typically at the mercy of the majority when it comes to suspending the rules.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Rehoboth Beach Democrat, said he has not read the measures, most of which have not been introduced yet, but opposes changing the threshold to suspend the rules. Doing so, he said, could hamstring lawmakers.

Contrary to what Republicans think, he is confident Democrats do not overuse their ability to bypass the usual procedures.

Rep. Schwartzkopf also raised questions about how the package was unveiled.

“If you’re going to be transparent and bipartisan, which they want to do, I would think that they would have notified us, they would have called us, they would have asked us to join them, they would have said ‘Hey, how about signing on to these bills?’ I thought it was kind of interesting that they took one of Andria’s bills and never even notified her until she found out about noon today,” he said.

Under yet another GOP proposal, a long-standing practice of going into session on June 30 and staying through the early morning hours of July 1 would be ended, a change that would surely delight anyone who has been at Legislative Hall at 3 a.m.

The practice allows legislators to get around a provision in the state constitution that limits the ability of anyone other than the governor to call a special session. By staying overnight, legislators can close their regular session at midnight and enter into a special one at 12:01 a.m., thus letting the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore call a special session at a later date if need be.

The yet-to-be filed bill would move the end of session up five hours, allowing lawmakers to begin a special session at 7:01 p.m. and (hopefully) avoiding having sleep-deprived legislators on the road after they’ve been up nearly 24 hours straight and are struggling to keep their eyes open.

“What I’m worried about … is that ride home that we take. We’ve already heard from people that have fallen asleep and woken up and not had the accident. I think we’re waiting for an accident to happen,” said House Minority Leader Danny Short, of Seaford.

A separate constitutional amendment would require all measures other than the money bills be passed by one chamber by June 20 if they are to be approved by the other chamber. The legislation aims to give lawmakers time to examine every bill and limit the rushing that typically occurs at the end of June every year.

About half the states have what’s called a “crossover day.”

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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