Legislators begin new session

DOVER — Plenty of new faces joined elected officials, well-wishers and citizens Tuesday for the opening of Delaware’s 150th General Assembly.

“I think this is the largest crowd we’ve ever had,” Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, told the packed chamber. “This is an important and memorable day. We’ve all taken our oaths of office and we commit ourselves to serving our district, community and state.”

The November election turned over roughly a quarter of the General Assembly’s 62 members. Three senators and 12 representatives are newcomers to the body and two former state representative crossed over to become senators.

The speaker noted the large number of new legislators and the diversity they’ve brought with them.

Echoing the point, Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, D-Wilmington, noted that for the first time in state history there was more than one black woman serving in the chamber at the same time.

“For eight years, I was the only African American female in this chamber, and previous history shows that there has never been more than one African American female in this chamber at a time,” she said.

“First was Henrietta Johnson, Hazel Plant and then myself. But history is made today by honoring and acknowledging three new African American females serving in this chamber.

“This is the largest number of African Americans to serve in this body — and if you count the two senators, the total number is 10. Delaware has truly made history with what we’ve done here today.”

The Democrats fared better in the general election than Republicans, gaining a seat in each chamber and unseating two member of the Republican leadership.

Democrats now hold a 12-9 edge in the Senate and a 26-15 advantage in the House.

On Tuesday, new caucus leaders officially took their roles in the chambers.

All four caucuses had elected new leadership one day after the election.

On the Senate side, the Republican caucus saw a major shakeup when Minority Leader Gary Simpson decided not to seek re-election and Minority Whip Greg Lavelle was defeated in the election.

As a result, Sen. Gerald Hocker of Ocean View was selected as minority leader and Sen. Cathy Cloutier as minority whip.

Sen. Cloutier, who represents the Arden area, is one of just two New Castle County Republicans in the Senate.

Senate Democrats named President Pro Tempore David McBride as the chamber’s leading member once again.

Majority Leader Margaret Rose Henry, who retired last year, was replaced by former Majority Whip Nicole Poore who represents New Castle.

Sen. Bryan Townsend of Newark was named as the new whip.

Top House Democratic leadership remains the same, with Reps. Schwartzkopf and Valerie Longhurst of Bear each getting a fourth term as speaker and majority leader, respectively.

The change comes in majority whip, as Rep. Larry Mitchell of Elsmere replaces Rep. John Viola of Newark, who opted not to seek another term as whip.

Rep. Danny Short, a Republican who has managed his caucus for the past six years, was given another two years as minority leader.

With Deborah Hudson, who had been the minority whip since the end of 2012, losing in the November election, House Republicans went with Rep. Tim Dukes as the new No. 2.

Though the leadership is new, the issues causing party friction are likely to stay the same.

Standout issues discussed during the 149th General Assembly are expected to make a return and drive debate.

Each session consists of two “legs,” meaning all bills still on the table when lawmakers break for the year on July 1 can be picked up again in January 2020 when the Legislature resumes.

Among these items, the budget, gun control laws, cannabis legalization, criminal justice reform, voter rights, “clean water” legislation and the death penalty all have potential to take the spotlight during the 2019 session.

Staff writer Ian Gronau can be reached at 741-8272 or igronau@newszap.com

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