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Weakened trust and weaker growth

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a massive spotlight on our local and state governments’ operations and spending; today, transparency isn’t just warranted, it’s demanded.

In the waning weeks of Delaware’s legislative session, it is clear that even a pandemic can’t push our officials to hold themselves accountable or be transparent with their constituents. Promises and trust have been broken, but that’s just business as usual here.

Transparency and the resulting ability to hold elected officials accountable have long been major issues in Delaware government with implications that span policy, spending, and public faith in government, but access should be easier than ever with virtual meetings and digital communication.

Delawareans were teased with the promise change in January this year, when Delaware General Assembly leaders Sen. McBride and Rep. Schwartzkopf announced a new rule that made June 10, 2020 the last day that House or Senate committees could consider bills that originate in their respective chambers.

In May, Rep. Schwartzkopf doubled-down on the promise, by asserting the General Assembly would “concentrate on the money bills,” and that anything beyond would need to be refiled in the start of the next legislative session in January 2021.

Legislators quickly went back on their word when session resumed virtually.

Since the June 10 filing deadline, over 35 bills have been filed that would violate the deadline rule announced in January. While some deal with COVID-19, criminal justice reform, or one of the three budgets, many are outside of the parameters of COVID or “emergency.”

The purpose of the rule was to encourage public involvement and prevent bills from being rushed through at the end of session. Despite this, multiple consent agendas are heard per session day and bills are being pushed under suspended rules to be heard and voted on without a hearing or public comment.

Even the capital budget was brought for a vote in the Senate without adequate time for lawmakers to review the content and vote, let alone the public.

After 22 modifications to the emergency order from the Governor that included shuttering businesses without explanation on what deemed an operation to be “essential” or “non-essential,” lack of input from business leaders on recovery, and delayed announcement on the plan for close to $1B in federal CARES Act money coming to Delaware, the lack of communication is at a tipping point.

Evidence shows that government secrecy can lead to a lack of accountability and abuse of power, and when a local government isn’t forthcoming, it weakens the trust between the officials and their constituents.

Weakened public trust in government can lead to citizens and businesses becoming more risk-averse and delaying investment, innovation and employment decisions that impact economic growth and development. Establishing and focusing on transparency is an investment in economic recovery the future of the state.

This concept may seem lost on Delaware leaders, but it was a major factor in the June 10 deadline.

“The public isn’t fully aware of what we’re doing,’ President Pro Tempore, Senator David McBride said. ‘It’s not that we’re trying to do it without their knowledge. It’s just that things come up.”

Delawareans understand having to deal with unexpected issues, like COVID-19. What we don’t understand is the inability to communicate legislative measures that impact the state’s residents and businesses in the digital age, the reluctance for legislators to hold themselves accountable, or the continued dedication to keeping the state in the dark.

Keep yourself informed throughout the remainder of session (June 30) by checking new legislation here.

Tell your legislator to stick to the rule and stop rushing bills through at the end of session here.