It isn't dead yet, but the Delaware state Senate desk drawer veto has been mortally wounded:
The "desk-drawer veto" is dead -- or at least that's what several of its longtime opponents are saying.
The Senate passed a new version of its rules Tuesday, the first day of the 145th General Assembly, that states bills will be considered in committees within 12 legislative days of their filing.
Sen. Karen Peterson, D-Stanton, who has fought for years against the practice of assigning bills to committees where they would never be brought up for a hearing -- essentially leaving them to die in the committee chair's desk drawer -- said the Senate Democratic caucus debated the new rules for several hours and agreed it was time to end the so-called desk-drawer veto. On Tuesday, Peterson voted in favor of the rules -- which are voted on at the beginning of each new legislative session -- for the first time in her career.
"This does away with the desk-drawer veto as we know it," she said.
There is at least one doubter, however:
But not everyone is so sure. The rules let the Senate force a bill from a committee chair who ignores the 12-day deadline, but the petition process used to do that has long existed -- and has rarely been successful.
Republican Sen. Colin Bonini, Dover South, the only member to vote against the new rules, said they will continue to allow the desk-drawer veto under a different name.
The new rules say if the bill is not considered in committee after 12 legislative days, it can then be petitioned out with the signatures of 11 of the 20 senators.
Bonini said the "if" statement that preserves a process for petitioning also leaves wiggle room for committee chairs to not hold hearings for bills. In turn, he said, that only makes the desk-drawer veto worse because lawmakers now have to wait 12 days to start a petition, versus the previous practice that allowed them to petition bills whenever they wanted.
Apparently, Senator Bonini works on the principle that progress isn't real unless it results in perfection. Nevertheless, his “hopes” are more enlightened:
"I hope I'm wrong," Bonini said.
Bonini is partly incorrect. The new rule allows the majority caucus to hold a vote to get a bill out of a committee. This is an extra measure for getting a bill out of committee and is not the same as petitioning a bill out of committee, which remains as an option for all the state senators.
Good government activist John Flaherty also has a concern:
True, but that has always been part of the rules. Besides, there must be 5 days public notice of a committee meeting before a committee meeting can be held. Committee members will know what bills are assigned to their committee and when the meetings will be held.Open-government activist John Flaherty called the new rules "a step in the right direction," but pointed out that they still allow committees to meet without a quorum.
The surprising report is the relief that Senate Pro Tem reportedly feels that the desk-drawer veto is mortally wounded. He told a reliable source that the only reason he assigned bills to his committee and consigned them to the oblivion of his desk drawer is because he was requested to do so by some of his colleagues. That sounds like a lot of horse hockey to me, but if true, one can only marvel at how Sen. Adams felt his first line of duty was to be responsive to the wishes of his fellow senators and not the legislative needs of his constituents and the people of Delaware. Time will tell if “Slick and Slippery” Thurman Adams will hold committee hearings on all the bills he assigns to his Executive Committee.
In any case, the rule changes do indicate a sea change of sorts:
Peterson said there is no way to promise all members are going to abide by the 12-day rule, but said the long discussion held in caucus, during which all committee chairs agreed to end the desk-drawer veto, should inspire confidence.
"It's as much an attitude change as it is a rule change," Peterson said.