SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A committee of lawmakers in Utah’s House of Representatives signed off Monday on the creation of a new legislative oversight committee that would have broad power to investigate state and local governments, ranging from the governor’s office down to individual schools.
The proposal from Republican Rep. Keven Stratton of Orem was rejected earlier this month as some Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the measure, citing worries that the powerful committee would expand the Legislature’s power and create an unnecessary new layer of government interference while taking on the role of other existing government committees and offices.
Members of a House Government Operations committee on Monday advanced the measure to the full House for a vote. The vote came after several Republican lawmakers said they were more comfortable with creating the new committee after Stratton watered down the bill by limiting the committee’s power to investigate city councils and local governments only if those bodies invite the committee to investigate them.
Stratton’s bill would create a nine-member committee of House and Senate lawmakers who could investigate, audit, issue subpoenas and compel people to testify.
The committee would look into “waste, fraud, misconduct, or abuse” by state level government agencies and how local governments use money funneled to them by the Legislature and whether they’re complying with state laws.
The Legislature and the judicial branch would be exempt from the committee’s oversight.
Stratton has compared the committee to one in the U.S. House of Representatives that former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican, used to investigate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state and for her handling of the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi.
He told lawmakers that the new investigative committee “really should be friendly and helpful” and ensure good governance throughout the state.
He criticized claims that the bill would give the Legislature more power than it already has, saying it would be more efficient for this committee to hold a hearing on an issue and head off problems before the legislative auditor launches a full-fledged investigation.
Legislative leaders and the chairs of legislative committees already have the power to issue subpoenas and compel someone to testify or produce documents.
The governor’s office spoke out in opposition to the bill earlier this month, worrying it could interfere with the separation of powers.
Paul Edwards, the spokesman for Republican Gov. Gary Herbert, said in a statement Monday that “state agencies, counties, cities and school boards have shared with us their significant concerns about this legislation. We are working with the bill’s sponsors to address our serious reservations about the current version of this bill.”
Written by MICHELLE L. PRICE, Associated Press
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