Guest Commentary: Senate hearing process unfairly limits public comment


Sen. Bryant Richardson is a Republican representing Seaford.

A new senator, Eric Buckson, R-Camden, has not held back in sharing his frustration about procedures on the floor of the Senate and in committee hearings. I appreciate his willingness to speak out.

Anyone from the public who has attempted to testify during the committee hearings, either in person or online, knows the hearing process is flawed. The good part is that anyone from the public may sign up to speak. In most cases, their time has been limited to two minutes, but at least the public is granted that right.

However, at some hearings lately, the time to speak has been limited to one minute, after which the speaker is abruptly cut off, often in midsentence, with the warning, “Your time is up.”

Worse yet, in some hearings, not all members of the public are extended the right for their voice to be heard.

Before being elected to the Senate, Buckson served as a commissioner on the Kent County Levy Court. (In Sussex and New Castle, that same office is referred to as county councilperson.)

Sen. Buckson said, at hearings in Levy Court, public comment sometimes ran for hours and members of the public were not restricted to a time limit. He said hearings could last until after midnight to allow adequate time for all to be heard. He remembers being in hearings until as late as 3 a.m.

In the Senate, the time allowed for public comment during committee hearings at best is under two hours. Often, more than one piece of legislation is on the committee agenda each hearing, so that time is divided up even more.

A few years ago, there were 64 members of the public signed up to speak on my Women’s Right to Know Ultrasound Act, 49 in favor and 15 opposed. The entire amount of time allowed for discussion was 15 minutes.

Needless to say, only a few members of the public had the time to speak.

For a bill to be released from committee for consideration on the floor of the Senate, a majority of the committee members must approve. The Ultrasound Act was kept locked up in committee. My request to suspend the rules to hear a later version of this same act was voted down along party lines.

Just a week ago, during a hearing on Senate Bill 2, which creates an application process to obtain a permit for the purchase of a handgun, members of the public were again limited to one minute for testimony. Again, they were abruptly cut off after one minute, often in midsentence.

Sen. Buckson also pointed out the lack of respect shown to our side of the aisle, while discussing the gun issue on the floor.

This lack of respect shows the problem of one side having the votes to pass any bill they want and not having to listen to any opposing points of view. No matter what party you belong to, this lack of serious dialogue is disrespectful and dangerous.

Members and subscribers make this story possible.
You can help support non-partisan, community journalism.