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Delaware Senate Democrats

Building Committee Would Conduct Thorough Study of Needs for Legislative Hall to Improve Safety, Transparency

March 4, 2021

Last major renovation of 88-year-old Leg Hall took place more than 20 years ago

DOVER – Legislative leaders from all four caucuses announced plans Wednesday to thoroughly study and assess the space, technological and security needs for Legislative Hall, a nearly 90-year-old building that hasn’t undergone a major renovation in more than a generation.

House Joint Resolution 3 would establish the Legislative Building Committee to conduct a study of the existing structure to assess the future space needs for lawmakers, staff and the public; examine the technological capabilities needed to promote openness and transparency; and determine what security upgrades might be necessary to protect the safety of all who visit the building.

“When Legislative Hall was built nearly 90 years ago, the General Assembly didn’t have a full-time staff. They didn’t even have individual offices – they sat at their desks on the floor and conducted business. The Legislature itself and our roles have evolved. Technological advancements have made it possible to bring government from Dover to every corner of Delaware, and beyond. And the world in which we now live, unfortunately, requires additional security considerations we never contemplated even 20 years ago,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf.

“Legislative Hall as it exists today is not equipped to efficiently and effectively handle the day-to-day challenges of being the seat of government in the 21st century. Rather than taking an ad-hoc or piecemeal approach to addressing individual issues, this committee will assess all our building needs comprehensively and make recommendations to make Leg Hall more accessible, transparent, functional and safe for all who use or visit it.”

Built in 1933, Legislative Hall has undergone only two major expansions since becoming home to the Delaware General Assembly 88 years ago. In the 1960s, additions were constructed to the north and south of each chamber, adding several offices including those now used by the House Speaker and the Senate President Pro Tempore. In the 90s, the east wings were built, which added office space for individual legislators and the second-floor hearing rooms for the two chambers.

“The Delaware General Assembly has changed dramatically since I was first elected and so too have the demands and expectations of the people we serve,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola. “We may technically still be part time but the people of this state demand full time representation and we increasingly need the staff, the technology and the space to meet the needs of a modern legislative body. If we were in person right now, we wouldn’t be able to stream some committee hearings because the rooms are simply too small. In my opinion, this study is long overdue and I look forward to getting this process started as quickly as possible.”

As elected officials and many who visit Legislative Hall know, the building does not have many dedicated meeting rooms that can adequately accommodate public committee hearings. Rooms are not equipped for live-streaming or multimedia presentations. On busy days, dozens of people can cram into small rooms, several of which are not ADA-compliant.

Approximately 600 people – staff, legislators, lobbyists, press and members of the public – visit Legislative Hall on an average session day. More than 1,700 came in and out of the building on June 30 – the last day of legislative session – in 2019.

Between the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the U.S. Capitol riots in January this year, safety concerns have changed drastically since the building’s last renovation more than 20 years ago. These issues also would be reviewed and addressed as part of the committee’s study.

The building committee would be compromised of three state representatives and three senators, including members of both parties, along with three residents (one each appointed by the governor, House speaker and Senate president pro tempore), the House Chief Clerk, the Secretary of the Senate, the Controller General, the Capitol Police chief, and the Division of Research director.

HJR 3, which is sponsored by all 10 legislative leaders of the four caucuses, calls for the committee to deliver its final report by October 1, 2022.