As we look ahead to the resumption of the 146th General Assembly next month, there is no shortage of “good government” bills waiting to be acted on in the House of Representatives.
There are at least a dozen bills pending action which I believe would make government more transparent and/or reduce the chances for state officials to turn public service into “self-service.”
One such bill seeks to eliminate a mechanism that gives state lawmakers and other officials the opportunity to increase their salaries without the need for the General Assembly to vote on the issue.
Under current law, the Delaware Compensation Commission analyzes salaries paid to top officials in surrounding states, as well as in states similar to Delaware, and issues a report containing recommendations for raises. The report is delivered to the General Assembly the January following each presidential election year and its recommendations automatically become law unless lawmakers intervene to stop it – something which rarely happens.
Sponsored by State House Minority Leader Greg Lavelle, House Bill 159 would change the name of the six-member commission and, more importantly, would make its report advisory in nature, abolishing its automatic enactment.
I believe that if raising the pay of state officials is warranted, the General Assembly should openly debate the issue, supporters should disclose their reasons for advocating it, and lawmakers should vote on it. Allowing a raise to take effect in a way that avoids this public process is a fainthearted disservice to taxpayers.
Rep. Lavelle has introduced versions of this legislation in the past, only to see those bills blocked or defeated. I believe the House Administration Committee, where House Bill 159 is currently pending action, should release the measure and that it deserves a vote in both the House and Senate.
Another bill awaiting action in the House Administration Committee seeks to give the public access to any state report financed with taxpayer money. Under House Bill 120, any non-security report, including accreditation reports of state agencies, would be made available to the public. To protect the privacy of individuals, any report issued to the public under this proposed law would have all personal identification data (e.g. – students, patients, wards of the state, and recipients of state services) removed.
Other previously-introduced versions of this bill have failed to win passage and I am at a loss to understand why. The bill contains ample protections to ensure that no confidential information, nor data that could reduce security, would be released. I believe information that is gathered with public money should be made available to the citizens who paid for it and I have yet to hear a valid argument why this proposal should not be law.
Another bill, which is currently tabled in a House committee – effectively bottling it up indefinitely – would impose a one-year waiting period on former state legislators, state cabinet officials and staff members of the governor’s office between the time they leave state service and when they would be eligible to act as lobbyists.
During my short tenure in the General Assembly, I’ve seen numerous former lawmakers and state officials acting as lobbyists inside Legislative Hall. While there is nothing currently illegal about this, it seems prudent to enact the waiting period proposed in Rep. Deborah Hudson’s House Bill 24.
Allowing former lawmakers and officials to work as lobbyists just weeks (or days) after they’ve left office allows them to easily tap into their network of existing relationships with policy-makers. This not only provides their clients with a distinct advantage, it also leaves a tempting door open to unethical deal-making while these officials are still working for the state.
In 2012, the General Assembly needs to stop kicking the can down the road to reform and debate and enact some of the common sense measures that have been ignored, neglected and intentionally blocked in the legislature. If not, the citizens of this state may take reform into their own hands when they head to the polls in November.