TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Joseph F. Vitale which would amend and expand the duties and powers of the State Commission of Investigation (SCI) to facilitate greater scrutiny of New Jersey State government was unanimously approved by the Assembly today, receiving final legislative approval.
“Given the reports this week of rampant corruption in Monmouth County, it’s obvious that we need stronger watchdogs to ensure governmental integrity,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “The SCI was designed to be a watchdog agency, charged with keeping government ‘for the people’ instead of for greedy politicians looking to trade their office for personal enrichment. This bill would empower the SCI with the tools needed to accomplish their mission of public scrutiny of officeholders in New Jersey.”
The bill, S-537, would make a number of changes to the SCI to increase their ability to investigate government corruption. Specifically, the bill would expand each member’s term of office to four years, to limit a political party’s ability to stack the Commission with sympathetic members, as well as expand the immunity of SCI members from defamation lawsuits when they are working within the scope of their duties, and authorize the SCI to subpoena certain subscriber information from providers of electronic communications services or remote computer services. The bill would also exempt the SCI from the provisions of the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to preserve the integrity of SCI investigations.
“The SCI is a law enforcement agency, and needs to be treated as such if we’re really going to root out corruption from government in New Jersey,” said Senator Vitale. “A weak SCI sends the message that we don’t take corruption in government seriously in the Garden State, when the effects of corruption are eroding the public trust, expanding voter cynicism, and undercutting the overall effectiveness of government. We need a strong, effective agency seeking out and prosecuting corruption wherever it rears it’s ugly head, if we’re going to restore the public’s faith in its servants.”
The bill now heads to the Governor’s Desk to be signed into law. It was approved by the Senate by a vote of 35-0 earlier this month.