Legislative Hall is an impressive building, to be sure, but very accessible, and Rep. Gerald Hocker’s office is no exception to the rule. A quick trip through security, down the hall, through a reception are, skirt a few cubicles, and there you are.
Hocker welcomes constituents from his own 38th District — the southeast corner of the state, bounded by the Indian River to the north, Dagsboro and Selbyville to the west (and the skinny strip of oceanfront running up the coast to Dewey Beach).
However, there was plenty of foot traffic from all over the state on June 28.
Senate Bill (SB) 80 (regulations governing embryonic stem cell research) was slated for action on the house floor that night. Dee and Dick Becker (lobbyists, sort of) brought the Rev. John Grimm (spokesman for the Catholic Diocese) by the office, and asked Hocker to consider possible unintended consequences.
From the synopsis, “At present, human embryos created during in vitro fertilization procedures are typically discarded and thus destroyed, when the embryos are no longer needed for the fertility treatment.”
They could be used for research, instead. However, opponents fear a mysterious increase in the number of embryos needed for fertility treatment, with the passage of SB 80. Supporters say the bill would balance ethical concerns with ethical obligations to seriously ill Delawareans.
Supporters agree treatments generated through adult stem-cell research have been successful, but say adult cells are thought to be “multipotent,” already partly programmed, whereas embryonic stem cells may be “pluripotent,” or capable of giving rise to cells found in all human tissues.
However, at least for Delaware Family Foundation (DFF) President Andrea Evans, the tradeoff is too high.
“All of those adult stem cells are free — with no life attached,” she said.
Hocker said he was also troubled by what he perceived as a push for grant eligibility. While supporters note SB 80 as enabling legislation for regulation only, he suggested the funding requests would follow hard upon its passage.
Some researchers would likely suggest that might be a good thing, but Hocker said everything he’d been reading indicated adult stem-cell research would likely prove more productive.
A Republican colleague from the extreme opposite end of the state, Rep. Deborah Hudson, stopped by. They gauged one another on certain considered amendments but parted company still in possession of their own widely varied viewpoints.
Hocker returned to constituent issues — he called a woman in Ocean View who’d complained about motorcyclists zooming around town with no helmets for protection.
“They have to have the helmet on the bike, but they don’t have to be wearing it,” he explained. (The anomaly is kind of stupid, in his opinion, and everyone should wear a helmet anyway).
If only everything were so simple.
He headed upstairs to talk with Margaret Dean (assistant to the Speaker of the House), who also helps Hocker and Reps. John Atkins, V. George Carey and William Outten.
“She does a lot of my constituent work — or knows who to assign it to,” he pointed out. “She’s our ‘go-to’ person, very knowledgeable about how things work, how to get things done.” (Hocker has his own assistant as well — Ruth Ann Marvel, back in Clarksville.)
Hocker questioned figures associated with the Peninsula Gas & Oil contract at the Indian River Marina, voicing an opinion that the state maybe could have found someone with a lower distribution price. He asked Dean to review the bidding process, saying that was affecting customers at the marina — charter boat captains in particular.
He also asked Dean to follow up on a letter from a constituent with a home on a private road, and send notice to those responsible for maintenance there that they needed to pick it up.
“Road, sewer and more roads — most of my job isn’t dealing with legislation at all,” Hocker said.
Returning to his office, he spent some time with a family from Newark who’d come to oppose SB 80, and discussed an amendment with Sussex County Administrator Bob Stickels.
Lobbyist Scott Kidner stopped in, and Hocker stepped out to the office administrative area to make copies of a new bill “relating to real property acquisition and the exercise of eminent domain.”
Hocker was the House sponsor for that bill, SB 217 (in the Small Business Committee). It would require the state’s power of eminent domain “only be exercised for the purposes of a recognized public use,” as described at least six months ahead of condemnation.
It also adds rigor to figuring just what legal, appraisal and engineering fees the property owner actually incurred, if it turns out that the state can’t acquire through eminent domain, or proceedings are dropped.
By then, the bells were ringing all legislators back into session — marking the beginning of Hocker’s formal workday in the General Assembly. It was 3:30 p.m. The representatives wrapped up a few items from the previous day’s agenda, went into caucus for three hours, and then reopened the chamber to the public.
With nearly 40 bills on the agenda, there would be plenty of last-minute speaking points, pro and con, and up or down votes until past 10 p.m.
Just another day at Legislative Hall.
To an outsider, it may seem crazy. Why can’t they spread things out over the entire session, instead of trying to deal with everything in the homestretch?
“It’s been this way forever because it works, and because there are plenty of checks and balances this way,” Hocker pointed out.
Bills had to traverse both houses, and committees in both houses, and while caucus was closed, he said there were plenty of opportunities for members of the public to check out what was happening along the way (budget and bond bill hearings, for instance).
There was always some tit-for-tat, but Hocker said he tried to keep it to the minimum, and only where he could help the 38th District without limiting his effectiveness elsewhere.
“I’ve said many times — if I can’t make a difference up here, I have enough to do in Ocean View and Clarksville,” he pointed out.
Editor’s Note: Point reporter Sam Harvey spent June 28 with Rep. Gerald Hocker in Dover, while Point intern Dan Graybill spent the day with Sen. George H. Bunting. Graybill’s story on a day with Bunting will appear in next week’s paper.