Expanded subpoena power sought for NJ investigative panels

A New Jersey lawmaker who helped lead the state investigation into the Bridgegate scandal wants to give legislative committees more power.

As it stands, state law requires the full Senate or Assembly to pass a resolution before any legislative committee can compel witnesses to testify.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski said his bill would give a committee that subpoena power if the majority of its members authorize it.

“When department heads, cabinet officers, or other individuals who have relevant knowledge refuse to come, there is no ability for a committee chair to do anything about that under current law,” said Wisniewski, D-Middlesex. “This would change it. It would level the playing field.”

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The measure would also let legislative committees decide whether to grant immunity to subpoenaed witnesses instead of automatically exempting those witnesses from prosecution.

With state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, Wisniewski chaired the state panel investigating the politically motivated closing of access lanes to the George Washington Bridge. 

His said his bill would help the Legislature function more efficiently.

“It is an important part of the committee function to be able to ask commissioners, department heads, and others to come in to share the knowledge they have without it being subject to gubernatorial veto, which it currently is,” he said Tuesday.

A spokesman for the Assembly Speaker says the bill will be reviewed, but there’s no indication whether it will be posted for a vote.

Meanwhile, Weinberg said Wisniewski’s proposal needs more study.

“I think we’ve been judicious about granting that power for particular reasons,” she said. “So have to review that bill a little bit more closely.”


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