The Delaware legislature concluded its recent session on June 30th with the election of the first female House Speaker in the state’s history and the passage of several important bills. These legislative changes encompassed areas such as government spending, police reform, and environmental initiatives, marking a significant milestone in the state’s governance.
A Historic Shift in Leadership
Representative Valerie Longhurst, the House Majority Leader, was chosen by her peers to succeed fellow Democrat Pete Schwartzkopf as Speaker. This change came as Schwartzkopf, who has held the Speaker’s position for 11 years, decided to step down from his leadership role to dedicate more time to his family. However, he will continue serving the remainder of his House term. Rep. Longhurst, alongside Majority Whip Melissa Minor-Brown and first-year lawmaker Kerri Evelyn Harris, forms an all-female House leadership team, making history in Delaware. Notably, Longhurst is the first female Speaker of the House, Minor-Brown is the first person of color elected Majority Leader, and Harris is the first open member of the LGBTQ+ community to hold a leadership position in either chamber. You can read more about this historic leadership shift here.
A Session Marked by Significant Legislation
The legislature approved several key bills during this session: A measure that mandates the inclusion of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in newly built single-family and multi-family residential properties. A directive for state environmental officials to study transmission impacts of offshore wind development and explore a process for procuring offshore wind power. Plastic coffee stirrers, cocktail picks, and sandwich picks will also be banned. A requirement for a gradually increasing percentage of school buses purchased by the Department of Education each year to be electric vehicles. A mandate for new commercial buildings with foundation footprints of 50,000 square feet or more to support rooftop solar infrastructure.
More Legislative Changes and Initiatives
Other notable legislation passed during this session includes:
- The Authorization of paid bereavement leave for state employees who experience a miscarriage, stillbirth, or other pregnancy loss, including elective abortion.
- Eliminating a 3-month waiting period before the state pays its share of new employees’ health care coverage.
- Implementation of a 60-cent monthly surcharge on every cell phone line and telephone landline, and a 60-cent one-time fee on prepaid wireless phones, to fund behavioral health crisis intervention and suicide hotline services.
- Permission for abortion providers and their employees to apply for participation in an address confidentiality program.
- A requirement for candidates for statewide office, the General Assembly, and elected county offices to request criminal history background checks.
Parting Words from Officials
Reflecting on his tenure, Rep. Schwartzkopf stated, “I’m proud of what we have accomplished, and I know that under Valerie [Longhurst’s] leadership, this caucus and chamber will continue to achieve great things for all the people of Delaware.” Gov. John Carney and Lt . Gov. Bethany Hall-Long also expressed their sentiments on the leadership change. Gov. Carney said, “Speaker Schwartzkopf is not just a great colleague, but a good friend. He’s promoted the health and safety of our communities, especially through his work to promote the prevention and detection of Lyme disease. Our state is better off because of his dedicated and reliable leadership… I’d like to congratulate Representative Longhurst on becoming Speaker of the House — an important and historic day for Delaware.” Lt. Gov. Hall-Long’s statement echoed similar sentiments, “Today, Delaware women win! With the election of the first all-female leadership team in the House of Representatives, we are poised to do big things in the First State. Congratulations to Valerie Longhurst on her election to lead the Delaware House of Representatives as its first-ever woman speaker… I also want to congratulate Majority Leader Melissa Minor-Brown, Delaware’s first Black House majority leader, and Majority Whip Kerri Evelyn Harris, the first openly LGBTQ member of legislative leadership, on their elections.”
The sweeping changes in leadership and policy mark a historic session for Delaware, setting the stage for the future. With an all-female leadership team in the House and an ambitious policy agenda, the state is poised to embark on a path of progressive legislation and representation. From environmental efforts to public health initiatives, these legislative changes underline the state’s commitment to addressing pressing issues and ensuring comprehensive representation in the House. The historic session illustrates the potential for great strides in legislation and leadership, underscoring a new chapter in Delaware’s history.