Posted: June 2, 2005
AFTER A BREAK, THE STATE HOUSE NEEDS A BREAK
By Celia Cohen
The Delaware General Assembly got back to Dover this week after a two-week break devoted to drafting the next state budget. Now comes June, the legislature's most intense month, when the lawmakers rush to finish their work before quitting for the year on June 30.
Despite the time off and the workload crunch, the state House of Representatives will not be in session on Tuesday, although the state Senate will be. The reason? Two words:
There is a meeting of the Council of State Governments, a national organization of state executive, legislative and judicial officials, scheduled from Sunday through Wednesday at the resort on the California-Nevada border.
Enough House members would rather be there than here -- tough choice, hey? -- that the chamber is shutting down for the day.
"It was a leadership decision," said state Rep. Terry R. Spence, the Republican speaker who is not going to the conference. "Some of the legislators wanted to be present [in Lake Tahoe.]"
The Senate leadership came to a different conclusion. "We're going to work our normal schedule. June is not the ideal month to be taking off days," said state Sen. Thurman G. Adams Jr., the Democratic president pro tem.
The traveling lawmakers have more cover than usual for going to this gathering, which follows the typical pattern of being part-seminar and part-frolic, and it is up to the legislators to decide how much of each, even as the state pays their way for them to pay attention and take good notes.
In this case, Delaware is being honored with an award, and the state also wants to drum up interest in a meeting it is hosting for the Council of State Governments in December in Wilmington. In addition, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner is serving a term as the organization's president, so she is going to Lake Tahoe, too.
The state is receiving an "Innovations Award" for a two-year-old initiative called Health Rewards, a voluntary program for state employees. The workers get a health evaluation and fitness prescription with the goal of reducing insurance claims and premium costs.
Minner and state Treasurer Jack A. Markell, a pair of Democrats who were instrumental in setting up the program, will accept the award. (Lt. Gov. John C. Carney, their fellow Democrat, is staying home and available to preside over the state Senate, as is his constitutional responsibility.)
It seems somewhat out of kilter that the House, which has a Republican majority, is the chamber taking the day off and not the Senate, which is run by Democrats who arguably have more pride at stake in watching Minner and Markell receive the recognition.
It is unclear how many legislators are going, although it is at least more than a half-dozen, including one senator and the rest representatives. The legislature does not release names before trips. The official reason given is security, so no one will know if a lawmaker's spouse is home alone or the house is empty, and not to frustrate the prying press or curious constituents who may want to know.
What is known is that all of the House members going to Lake Tahoe are Republicans, and the lone senator is a Democrat.
Although the Senate has its reasons for being in session, Adams would not second-guess the House for taking Tuesday off. He said he could understand legislators wanting to be present for the award ceremony -- "some of them should do that" -- and for wanting to promote the December session in Delaware.
"If it was a month ago," Adams said, "it's very possible we would have taken off, too."