The News Journal | Opinion | by Rep. John Kowalko
Congratulations to News Journal reporter Sarah Gamard on her insightful article, “Why the DE Turf vote has some lawmakers second guessing,” regarding the passage of Senate Substitute 2 for Senate Bill 178 on June 30, the final day of the legislative session. Her reporting has exposed some of the major flaws in the workings of Delaware’s General Assembly.
One major concern is the fact that the legislation was presented as an economic development driver without any data to support the alleged success of the proposed venture. Secondly, the direct connection to a potential beneficiary of the bill who happens to be the brother of a sitting state senator was never divulged to all of us legislators.
Thirdly, the bill was introduced on June 26, passed by the Senate on June 27, and sent to the House, where it was considered under a “suspension of rules” — which meant it did not have to have the usual committee hearing — and passed on the final day of the session.
This rush to judgement is notable due to the fact that it is the first year of a two-year session, and the bill could have been held over until the continuation of the 150th General Assembly session in January 2020. This would have allowed for more intense scrutiny by the public and our state legislature to question its authenticity and purpose.
I’m not attempting to justify or excuse my vote on SS 2 for SB 178. Until we, as a responsible body of lawmakers, publicly and vigorously acknowledge the flaws in a system that allows for last-minute consideration and votes on legislation dictated by some artificially imposed time constraints, we will inevitably fail in adequately representing the best interests of the public.
When we have three iterations of a bill in the last week of a session, it is illogical to presume that we have looked into all aspects and agendas involved, and we should not have taken a vote. We could have tabled the bill until January when we reconvene and had time to question the motives and beneficiaries of this law before casting a final vote.
Often legislation is presented as bipartisan with no individual special interests benefiting, and we rely on our colleagues who propose the law to be forthright and frank about any specifics or hidden agendas or personal interests.
This was not the case with this bill, and I can assure you that, in the future, I will be scrutinizing all of these seemingly innocuous proposals much more skeptically.
I am also working with a number of groups to reintroduce a bill creating an independent Office of the Inspector General to oversee government activities, and I intend to work with John Flaherty, the foremost open government champion in our state, on legislation to expand transparency and oversight of the General Assembly when ethical concerns are raised.
Until we, as responsible lawmakers, decide to reject the pressures of a flawed system and dedicate our time, efforts, and thoughts to analyzing and scrutinizing proposed bills more diligently, then we are doomed to repeat our errors.
Rep. John Kowalko, D-Newark, represents the 25th district in the Delaware House of Representatives.