Sussex County Delaware

Testimony on
House Bill 377

Guest Opinion ...

Federal Funding Doesn't
Justify House Bill 377

Editor's Note: Greenwood resident Matthew Opaliski presented his testimony before the Delaware House Health and Human Development Committee regarding House Bill 377 on Feb. 20, 2002, for publication on Sussex County Online.

Members of the House Committee, members of the General Assembly and fellow citizens good evening. My name is Matthew A. Opaliski, I am resident of the town of Greenwood and I stand before you as a concerned citizen of the state of Delaware.

First I would like to thank everyone that has taken the time to attend tonight and I would also like to thank Rep. Pamela Maier, Chairwoman of this committee, for holding this public hearing, thereby giving myself and others the opportunity to speak on this issue. We are fortunate as Delawareans, not only because we live in a small state that's size allows easy access to the legislature by all who choose to participate, but also because this very hearing, and others like it, help to fortify the basic principles of our form of government -- One that is of the people, by the people and for the people. For that I am thankful to call myself a Delawarean.

The issue at hand this evening, House Bill 377, the Delaware Emergency Health Powers Act, is an unusually large piece of legislation, both in its actual text and in its scope. Despite the claims made in this Bill's synopsis, or sales flyer if you will, the powers granted under this proposed legislation, via the office of Governor, an office that is as per this legislation beyond judicial review, are indeed far reaching and beg for time and consideration.

As a fellow citizen of this state, as a constituent of two members of this General Assembly and as an individual that refuses to sacrifice freedom for safety, whether real or perceived, I submit to you, and please, interpret that as the entire legislative body, the following simple suggestion. Make your own decisions. Disregard the urging of our Governor to take up and pass this legislation quickly as was called for in her January 17th State of the State Address, and grant this Bill the time to be heavily scrutinized, debated and amended, so as to not jeopardize the civil liberties of any Delawareans, yourself included.

On it's face, the intent of this proposed legislation has merit. After all, who among us would disagree with the idea that having a comprehensive plan in place that Delaware officials could utilize in a time of crisis is anything but a good idea -- I certainly wouldn't. And, while I'm sure that this is no doubt the reason that when this legislation was introduced on January 16th there were 26 legislators who had their name on this Bill, 16 Senators and 10 Representatives. That is just shy of half of the entire General Assembly. Regretfully I doubt that many bothered to read the Bill in it entirety if at all, and in fact there were a few who admitted to not reading it. Of course co-sponsoring a Bill is not the same as voting yes for its passage, but it's a pretty good bet that if they were snookered into signing on without even reading it, they may very well blindly vote for its passage too.

As the primary sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Maier, you may be aware of this, but I would like to point out for those who are not aware that since this Bill's introduction, a few of the co-sponsors have pulled their name due to the concerns expressed by citizens. Every member of the General Assembly, just as those who have since pulled their names from this legislation, have taken a sworn oath of office before entering upon the duties of their respective office. Those legislators whose names no longer appear on this legislation have been called on that oath of office and I now call the remaining 23 sponsors on their oath of office. Allow me to read that oath so as to refresh your memory, using the primary sponsor of House Bill 377 to fill any blanks.

"I, Pamela Maier, do proudly affirm to carry out the responsibilities of the office of State Representative to the best of my ability, freely acknowledging that the powers of this office flow from the people I am privileged to represent. I further affirm always to place the public interest above any special or personal interests, and to respect the right of future generations to share the rich historic and natural heritage of Delaware. In doing so I will always uphold and defend the Constitutions of my Country and my State, so help me God."

Passing this legislation could possibly result in usurping the Constitution of the State of Delaware, the very document that every legislator has sworn to uphold and defend, specifically, the Preamble of our State Constitution along with Sections (1) one, (6) six, (8) eight, (9) nine, (11) eleven, (13) thirteen, (18) eighteen and (20) twenty of Article I. Add to that the provision in this legislation that spells out a judicial immunity for the decision to declare a state emergency whether real or perceived. That immunity granted to the Office of Governor renders moot Articles II, III and IV of the Delaware Constitution, the very model for a separation of powers in Delaware government.

Do I think that a Governor of this state or an appointee of that office would intentionally misuse these powers if so granted, no I do not. Is it possible for that very scenario to happen if this legislation should pass, yes it is. Are we as Delawareans comfortable with that possibility, my answer is no.

Again, I'd like to thank the committee for the opportunity to speak.

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