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Delaware Senate Democrats

Senate passes first leg of bipartisan Constitutional amendment to curtail General Assembly’s annual late-night finale

June 14, 2022

DOVER – The Delaware Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed legislation to effectively end the mandatory tradition of extending legislative business past midnight on the final day of session each year.

The vote completes the first leg of the Constitutional amendment needed to change a longstanding practice that forces members of the public, media, legislative staff, and lawmakers to work overnight before heading home in the early morning hours of July 1.

“This legislation is designed to strike a balance between concluding the final day of legislative session at a reasonable hour while preserving our ability to work overtime on behalf of the people of Delaware if the need arises,” said Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola, D-Newark. “But, ultimately, my hope is that this amendment results in far fewer late nights and reduced risk for the people whose jobs require that they head home only after we have concluded our deliberations.”

The Delaware Constitution spells out that the regular session of the General Assembly begins each calendar year on the second Tuesday in January and closes on the last day of June. To preserve its privilege to call the Legislature back into session later in the year if needed, the General Assembly must meet at midnight on June 30 and vote to commence a special session on July 1.

This interpretation of the Constitution has resulted in marathon legislative sessions through the night on June 30, sometimes until after dawn. Even during the pandemic, the House and Senate met virtually in brief session shortly before midnight on June 30, entering into special session on July 1.

House Bill 411 would amend the Delaware Constitution to change the time for the end of the legislative session from the last day of June (11:59 p.m. on June 30) to 5 p.m. on June 30. This would enable the House and Senate to reconvene in special session immediately after 5 p.m. (rather than after midnight) and still preserve their privilege to meet later in the year.

“For years, we have heard the concerns about these late-night sessions from the public and our fellow legislators alike. While the practice is rooted in the traditions of Legislative Hall, it is far from an ideal way to do the people’s business,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, lead sponsor of HB 411. “These marathon session days do not promote transparency in government, and they also result in legislators, staff and members of the public driving home late at night after a very long day, which is just not safe. By changing the time for the end of the regular session, we will be promoting transparency and ending a tradition that no longer makes good sense. This June 30th will be bittersweet in some ways because it is the last of its kind, but it’s the right decision.”

The legislative day on June 30 typically sees lawmakers working to tie up loose ends and secure final passage of key bills before the six-month recess. In an even-numbered year, business is fast-paced at the close of session, since legislation that does not pass before the session day concludes expires with the convening of a new General Assembly after Election Day.

“Having both chambers end session past midnight on June 30th/July 1st is an archaic practice that is dangerous for the public, staff, and members of the General Assembly,” said Senate Republican Leader Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View and Senate Republican Whip Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown in a statement. “The late-night hours hinder transparency and discourage public participation. This common sense change is long overdue.”
House Bill 411 was passed by the Delaware House of Representatives on May 12.

“This is the kind of common sense reform that is long overdue in our state legislature. Our caucus has pushed for this kind of measure for a number of years now. As a result, I am thrilled that this Constitutional Amendment has cleared its first General Assembly leg,” stated House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford.

Constitutional amendments require a 2/3 majority vote in each chamber and must be approved by two consecutive General Assemblies. The governor’s signature is not required on Constitutional amendments.

For the proposed amendment to take effect, an identical bill must be introduced and passed by both chambers during the 152nd General Assembly, which runs from January 2023 until June 2024.