The Delaware House of Representatives will convene its April 29 session in Legislative Hall, in what officials describe as in-person hybrid session day for floor votes and party caucus meetings.
At one point, legislators will participate in the session virtually from their offices.
It will be the first time the House members will have been in the Dover capital building since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, House leaders said in a press release Friday.
It’s possible because most of the representatives and essential staff will have been vaccinated, the release said.
The building will remain closed to the public, except for elected officials and essential staff. Social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines must be followed.
This month’s return to Legislative Hall is the first phase in an ongoing effort to resume in-person legislative sessions safely, the release said.
“As I have stated numerous times, the health and safety of fellow legislators, our staff and the public are my primary responsibilities. Remaining in virtual session has been critical to that goal,” said House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. “However, we are thankfully in a position where lawmakers and staff have been able to get vaccinated, which greatly reduces the risk to them and their families, and we can begin the process of resuming in-person session.”
Republicans in the legislature last week issued a press release calling for a return to in-person meetings.
Schwartzkopf emphasized that the plans have been in development for months, and said House members were notified more than a month ago that a return to in-person session was being discussed. The press release said details were discussed with the House Republican leadership on March 29.
“I want to be clear that this return to an in-person session has been discussed for months among staff and legislators and was not prompted by some outside pressure,” Schwartzkopf said. “In fact, this plan was vetted by the leaders of both caucuses last month, as will our ongoing efforts to conduct legislative business on the House floor.”
State House Minority Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, praised the decision to return to the Legislative Hall.
“While we have discussed coming back into session in-person for several weeks, the issue took on a great deal more urgency after we witnessed the poor way the Senate recently handled public participation in a committee hearing on two controversial bills,” he said in a statement.. “Last week, we issued a statement urging the Speaker of the House and the Senate President Pro Tem to set a hard date for resuming full in-person sessions and committee meetings as soon as possible.”
Short said venues in the Dover area that could accommodate gatherings of the size that the Delaware General Assembly needed while allowing sufficient space to observe social distancing, mask-wearing and other science-based protocols proven effective at preventing the spread of the virus.
“Tangible meetings would not replace our virtual presence, which would be maintained,” Short said. “If hundreds of people can safely patronize the unstructured environment of a big box store, and hundreds-of-thousands of Delawareans can attend school and go to work daily, we should be able to safely conduct public floor debates and committee meetings in a controlled, secured and monitored setting.”
Schwartzkopf said returning to session in Legislative Hall will allow representatives to “discuss issues and interact with each other in a way that is both familiar and more productive for many.
The upcoming two-week segment of legislative session will begin Monday, April 20, with virtual committee meetings scheduled for April 20-21 and April 27-28. A virtual floor session will be held on April 22 for House votes on legislation.