Running up the score: A look at Delaware’s 149th General Assembly by volume of bills filed

DOVER — For the second time in three years, Sen. Bryan Townsend introduced more bills in a leg of the General Assembly than any other lawmaker.

Sen. Townsend, a Newark Democrat, was the prime sponsor of 34 bills and resolutions. No other legislator came close.

The first leg of the 149th General Assembly, which ended July 3, included 46 regularly scheduled legislative days, one special-session day and one “extraordinary”-session day. In that time, 547 measures were introduced. Of that number, 314 passed.

Ninety-seven of those 314 are awaiting action on the part of the governor, while 107 have been signed, one was vetoed and 109 did not need Gov. John Carney’s approval.

The number of bills introduced should not be used as the sole statistic to judge whether a lawmaker had a productive session. Not all bills are created: House Bill 68, a minor charter change for Delaware City, passed both chambers unanimously within a month of being introduced, for instance. Meanwhile, considerable energy was spent on House Bill 110, which would have legalized marijuana, although the measure has not yet been voted on in either chamber.

Sponsorship can also be a bit misleading. For instance, a senator can spend months researching and drafting a bill to raise a tax, but because such proposals must originate in the House, the senator does not get credit despite being the driving force.

There’s a difference between being a cosponsor and a prime sponsor as well. Many cosponsors had nothing to do with crafting the bill, although the prime sponsor — the main supporter in the chamber opposite that of the lawmaker who introduces the proposal — is often vital to the process.

Additionally, Democrats, who control both the Senate and the House of Representatives, tend to introduce more bills, largely by virtue of their status as members of the majority party. The chairs of major committees typically receive a bump given that they work with the corresponding state agency and often file bills initially proposed by the department.

Sen. Townsend, for instance, chaired the Senate Health, Children and Social Services Committee for the first time this year, and about a third of bills he introduced dealt with health-related issues.

Looking at how many bills and resolutions each legislator introduced and supported is a quick and dirty method that can offer clues as to what each lawmaker was involved in, although the “what” of each measure — the substance — can be even more important.

Nonetheless, statistics do offer snippets that help tell the story of the 149th General Assembly.

Numbers

Sen. Townsend introduced 23 bills and resolutions in 2015, the most of any lawmaker at the time. He filed 45 across the entire two-year 148th General Assembly.
That fell just short of then Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, D-Middletown, who sponsored 46 proposals (and chaired what was then called the Senate Health Committee) in 2015 and 2016.

This year, he took the proverbial crown again.

“I wanted to continue to work on as much legislation as I could. I worked really, really hard to meet with stakeholder groups and to hear their concerns and to craft legislation so it’s not surprising I’m one of the more active legislators in the General Assembly,” he said, although he noted not every piece of legislation is equal.

Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, sponsored 25 measures, while Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride, D-New Castle, and House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, introduced 22 and 21 proposals respectively. Leadership is typically involved in some of the most important pieces of legislation, as well as more routine things like setting the rules for the chambers.

The busiest Republican by this calculation was Rep. Ruth Briggs King, of Georgetown, who filed 17 bills and resolutions.

The tally counts bills that were struck, as well as simple resolutions honoring visitors. It does not include amendments or bills that were substituted.

On the flip side, freshman Rep. Charles Postles, R-Milford, did not introduce any bills, and Rep. Gerald Brady, D-Wilmington, and Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel, each were responsible for one proposal.

While Rep. Dave Wilson, R-Bridgeville, only introduced two resolutions, he cosponsored 125 pieces of legislation — more than any of the General Assembly’s other members.

Counting sponsorships and cosponsorships together, Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington, topped everyone with 137 measures. Rep. Wilson was second, while Rep. Paul Baumbach, D-Newark, finished third, supporting 117 bills and resolutions.

Although the Senate has 21 seats and the House has 41, the General Assembly had a total of 63 members this year: Sen. Hall-Long resigned to become lieutenant governor and was replaced with Stephanie Hansen, a fellow Democrat.

Thirty-one members had perfect attendance (counting Sen. Hansen but not including Sen. Hall-Long, who only held her seat for three legislative days this year).

Rep. Keeley missed eight days, the most of anyone, while Sens. Greg Lavelle, R-Sharpley; Colin Bonini, R-Dover; and John Walsh, D-Stanton, and Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, each were absent five times.

Forty-nine of the 107 bill and resolutions Gov. Carney signed have come since July 3, when the legislature finished for the calendar year. Legislation is signed in spurts, based on the governor’s schedule and whether the sponsor requests a special ceremony.

Resolutions that do not have to be signed do not have the force of law. They include proposals honoring a distinguished visitor or naming a week after a person, group or cause.

Five hundred forty-seven pieces of legislation may seem like a lot but, relatively speaking, it isn’t. The Maryland General Assembly, for instance, saw nearly 2,900 proposals introduced this year.

Delaware has the third smallest legislature, ahead of only Alaska and Nebraska.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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