published January 29, 2009, in UDaily, the University of Delaware's online news service, written by Beth Chajes and Lisa Moreland
Working with State Sen. Bethany Hall-Long, professor of nursing in the University of Delaware School of Nursing, are Legislative Fellows, from left, Catherine Brobston, Monique Liston and John Collins.
As the 145th Delaware General Assembly commenced on Jan. 13 in Dover, the 2009 University of Delaware Legislative Fellows sensed they were about to embark on a historic journey - and one that could ultimately prove to be a bit rocky.
The 13 fellows will bear witness to the many
changes brought about by last fall's election.
Democratic candidates Jack Markell and Matt
Denn were elected governor and lieutenant
governor, respectively. Delaware Democrats
also picked up three seats in the Senate for a 16-5 majority, while their counterparts in the House gained majority control (25-16) for the first time since 1985 amid the overall vote for change that swept the nation.
Faced with unprecedented budget shortfalls, the General Assembly will be struggling this session to determine what to keep and what to cut.
The fellows will have ringside seats, ever ready to provide the state's legislators with in-depth, nonpartisan research on these and other issues of concern.
Now in its 28th year as a partnership between the College of Human Services, Education and Public Policy's Institute for Public Administration (IPA) and the Delaware General Assembly, the Legislative Fellows Program provides Delaware students with a unique opportunity to assist legislators in dealing with critical issues facing the state.
According to Lisa Moreland, co-manager of the program and a former Legislative Fellow herself, the assembly entrusts its fellows with an unmatched level of responsibility.
“Other state legislatures have legislative internship programs,” she says, “but many of their interns conduct support services, tracking legislation, filing bills and taking notes. The kind of research our fellows are involved in is usually done by full-time professionals in other states. It's a fantastic opportunity for the students and a good value for the legislature.”
That value may be what led the selection committee to choose a record number of fellows this year, 11 seniors and two graduate students. All but one are first-time fellows.
Selected through a competitive University-wide process, fellows are assigned to work directly with the state's policymakers in the legislature's four caucuses. The fellows spend 20 hours a week in Dover and receive a stipend for their efforts.
Carpooling to Legislative Hall from Newark three days a week during the legislative session, the fellows staff committees and respond to constituent concerns in addition to their policy research. Examples of the broad range of complex public policy issues they examine include energy assistance to low-income households, credit fraud and identity theft, and school finance reform.
“The UD Legislative Fellows Program is very unique and important to the Delaware legislature,” says Erik Schramm, chief of staff to the majority caucus in the Delaware House of Representatives. “However, fellows in the House majority caucus are even more essential because of their strong participation in the committee system. Legislative Fellows keep the House committees running like well-oiled machines, and we are extremely thankful to have them be part of the legislative process.”
Bridging practice and policy, fellows also take a three-credit graduate seminar, “State Government: Management and Policy,” which includes site visits to other state capitols in the region.