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 approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by a unanimous vote.
“Reports of unethical behavior in New Jersey government have always been a blight on the record of good work that government officials do on behalf of New Jersey citizens every day,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex. “The SCI exists as a police organization to keep government an institution ‘for the people,’ instead of allowing it to degenerate into an institution for themselves. If we are going to rid ourselves from the blight of corruption on New Jersey government, we have to give the SCI greater and broader authority to keep government honest.”
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.
“Other law enforcement organizations have broad power to act to bring about justice, whether it is refusing to speak on pending cases, protection from litigation when pursuing justice or the ability to collect information that might be useful in bringing legal action,” said Senator Vitale. “We need to treat governmental corruption more like a crime than a given, and as such, we should authorize the SCI to act not just as a watchdog, but as a policing organization for State Government. We need to give them the power and authority to get the job done, and root corruption out of government in New Jersey.”
The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration before being considered by the Assembly.