Even though Delaware’s state senators and representatives won’t be formally sworn in until Jan. 10, their work begins the day after election day — and so do their paychecks.
Delaware is one of just four states where lawmakers assume office the day after an election. Three other states’ lawmakers assume office on election day, while eight others assume office sometime before the end of the year.
In the remaining 34 states, there’s a “lame-duck” period during which outgoing legislators remain in office until new members are sworn in sometime in January.
Until Delaware lawmakers take the oath of office, they are known as representatives-elect or senators-elect.
“Between now and Jan. 10, they’re answering constituent calls, going to meetings and that type of stuff, but they haven’t formally taken their oath of office,” said Rich Puffer, chief clerk of the Delaware House of Representatives.
Some of the meetings they’ve attended have been with their caucuses — the House and Senate Republicans and Democrats. Each of the four caucuses met to select its leaders for the next General Assembly.
During the pandemic, members were sworn in virtually. Not since the 2018 election have members experienced the full, in-person ceremony.
On Jan. 10, members will cram into the House and Senate chambers along with their families, but they still won’t take the oath right away.
“We kind of open up the day like a normal day,” Puffer said. “We go through some administrative items and then we start with the election of the speaker and then elections of officers like myself, and then we pass the rules.”
Once that’s taken care of, a Delaware Supreme Court justice arrives to administer the oaths of office.
In the House, the two most senior members are sworn in first, then the “freshman class,” which refers to members who are new to the General Assembly. Depending on the size of the class, members are either sworn in two by two, or the entire class at once.
The class of 2020 will have the same opportunity, Puffer said, since they didn’t get to experience an in-person ceremony during the pandemic.
After that, the rest of the members will be sworn in all at once.
In the Senate, which is half the size of the House of Representatives, members traditionally take the oath of office one by one.
Four-year Senate terms are staggered, meaning only half the members are usually sworn in after an election while the others remain in office for another two years. This year, because of redistricting, every senator will take the oath of office.
Half will face election in two years, the other half in four.
The swearing-in ceremonies will begin Jan. 10 at 2 p.m. in the House and Senate chambers at Legislative Hall. They’ll be live-streamed online here.
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