Delaware Republicans push government accountability measures

(The Center Square) — Delaware Republicans are pushing several proposals aimed at requiring state lawmakers to be more accountable for their conduct and financial decisions.

One proposal would allow any member of the public to request an investigation if they believe a legislator has engaged in unethical or illegal conduct while in office, which the bill’s authors defined as allegations of bribery, conflicts of interest, disorderly behavior or “actions bringing the House or Senate into disrepute.” 

“If lawmakers are truly going to be held accountable, there needs to be an open process where citizens can call them out when they believe something inappropriate has occurred,” state Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek Valley, the bill’s primary sponsor, said in a statement. “A system where only lawmakers can initiate an investigation against other lawmakers does nothing to further public trust.”

Under current law, only members of the Legislature and their staff can file such ethics complaints. 

The bill would establish the Office of Legislative Ethics for lawmakers to ensure that valid allegations of wrongdoing by state legislators are thoroughly investigated. The panel would comprise five “respected members of the community” with expertise in law and legislative ethics, who will serve as volunteers. The office would be managed by an executive director, who would also serve as the agency’s lead Investigator.

Smith said the panel would be similar to the Office of Congressional Ethics – an independent, non-partisan entity that reviews allegations of misconduct against U.S. House of Representatives members.

Republicans also plan to file a bill to prohibit any non-government organization employing a legislator who helps write the state capital budget or the Grants-in-Aid Bill from receiving money through these bills.

The bill’s sponsor said it targets lawmakers who serve on influential committees crafting key spending bills and are employed by nonprofit agencies or private sector companies that get funding from the state budget.

“Most people probably think it’s already illegal for organizations employing members of the Joint Finance Committee or Joint Capital Improvement Committee to receive money in the bills these lawmakers write,” said state Rep. Bryan Shupe, R-Milford South. “Surprisingly, this is not the case.”  

Another proposal, sponsored by state Sens. Pettyjohn and Bryant Richardson, would create a six-member Grants-in-Aid Committee to review each applicant’s performance, financial stability, and efficiency. The committee would also require applicants to provide information and financial disclosures, giving lawmakers better opportunities to evaluate and provide oversight to the investment of taxpayer money.  

The bill’s sponsors said the measure had passed the House twice with bipartisan support but remains stalled in the Senate Executive Committee. They urged the Democratic-controlled panel to advance the bill. 

“We will renew our efforts to urge the Democrat legislators controlling that committee to release it and place it on the Senate agenda for action,” Richardson, R-Seaford, said in a statement. “Since the House Democrats and Republicans agree on the merits of this bill, we think it’s worthy of consideration by our chamber.”