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Delaware Senate Democrats

Having lost on merits, Republicans now seek to mischaracterize the process

April 11, 2021

By Senator Darius Brown |

I chose not to respond during Holy Week to the recent op-ed regarding our March 31 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on two gun safety bills. But, after continued attacks from Senate and House Republicans, it is clear to me they would rather save Barabbas.

The people of Delaware deserve a fair and accurate accounting of what transpired before, during and after the hearing that has attracted so much venom.

As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, my job is to ensure that each piece of legislation before us receives a fair hearing in which members of the public are given an opportunity to voice its support and objection to those measures – even as we continue our work for the people of Delaware in a virtual format due to the health concerns posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through careful planning and strict adherence to the rules of our committee, we were able to meet that goal while also accommodating the single largest public hearing in the history of the Delaware General Assembly.

More than 800 people were able to join our two-hour hearing simply due to the fact that it was held virtually and not in person. Had we attempted to hold a similar hearing at Legislative Hall, more people would have been forced to drive to Dover and fewer people would have been able to attend because our largest meeting space can hold only a fraction of the number we were able to host on March 31.

To be fair, the miracle of modern technology is not without some drawbacks. Despite a year in which many Delawareans were forced to conduct business virtually, some of our neighbors – particularly seniors – still struggle to use these new tools. Former Delaware GOP chairman John C. Sigler, for instance, participated in the virtual hearing by telephone and unfortunately could not figure out how to unmute himself when called on to give public testimony. He, of course, now blames me for this user error.

Others have complained about being muted after the strict time limit shared with them in advance – a one-minute window established specifically so we could hear from as many Delawareans as possible. I would note here that every single member of the public was expected to adhere to the same time limit, regardless of whether they spoke for or against the legislation.

Since joining the Delaware Senate in 2018, I have strived to work across party lines and did so in advance of the Judiciary Committee hearing by granting my Republican colleagues’ request to engage in an extended discussion with an NRA lawyer during the public comment portion of the hearing.

I am disappointed to read that those same colleagues are now claiming public input was stifled while neglecting to mention that it was their decision to burn up time that could have been used for another 20 members of the public to speak.

At no time has there ever been an expectation that committee hearings would be held open until every single Delawarean who wishes to speak has been handed a microphone. All Senate Committee hearings – both virtual and in person – have time limits and members of the public who are not able to speak are asked to submit their testimony in writing. We have heard from thousands of our neighbors on hundreds of bills in this way. Our Republican colleagues know that’s the case and even now are not calling for open-ended committee hearings.

Perhaps I should not be surprised by these attacks.

The same people so vocal about last month’s Judiciary Committee hearing conveniently forget that more stringent versions of these bills were heard in the Senate Executive Committee during the last General Assembly session.

That hearing was held in Legislative Hall. It also lasted two hours. And fewer members of the public were afforded an opportunity to speak. Yet, we did not hear a single complaint. The only difference between then and now is that those bills failed to get out of committee.

The real issue here is not with the committee process. The real issue is that the opponents of these measures failed to win seats in the Legislature, failed to bottle up these bills in committee a second time, failed to defeat them on the floor of the Senate and are now sowing mistrust over the process to explain it all to their supporters. 

We saw the same tactic when they lost the White House, the U.S. Senate and multiple legislative seats here in Delaware during the 2020 election. The only way to explain away their failure then – as now – is to claim that they were somehow cheated. Having failed to win the debate on its merits, they now seek to pull down the pillars of democracy and erode the public’s faith in their government.

I worry about the future of our democracy when these are the terms of our public discourse. But I will not waver in my commitment to lead our state out of these dark times and toward a safer, fairer and more economically prosperous future for all Delawareans.

Sen. Darius Brown is the Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, founding chair of the Delaware Legislative Black Caucus and the third African American elected to serve in the Delaware State Senate.