Bill would give subpoena power to legislative delegations

A concerning new bill filed this week – H.3934 – would allow committees created by county legislative delegations to subpoena any state or local government agency, board, commission, etc. and/or their representatives and records.

This is a startling – and unnecessary – amount of power to give to a legislative delegation.

Standing legislative committees already have the ability to subpoena government entities, as do special investigatory committees (such as those formed last year to investigate the V.C. Summer fiasco) and joint study committees. These powers give the General Assembly the authority to dig into the affairs of government as needed, and are supposed to be used only “in the discharge of its duties.” This bill, however, would extend lawmakers’ influence into local affairs, far beyond the proper jurisdiction of the legislature.

Moreover, much of delegations’ activity is independent from the legislative process – unlike standing committees – which shields them from accountability. Whereas special investigatory committees can only be created by legislative leadership, this bill would allow a delegation to form itself into a committee – no action by the House speaker or Senate president required – with the full subpoena power of the General Assembly behind it. In other words, this bill give broad powers to legislative delegations to be wielded at their own discretion.

Legislative delegations already have far too much power over local matters, controlling local appointments (such as county election boards and magistrates), the spending of local road dollars, and – through bills that apply only to certain areas of the state – local laws. This is a carryover from the days when local governments were run by their respective lawmakers rather than county and city councils.

Giving lawmakers this power would greatly increase their control over these local governments, which should be accountable to the voters who elected them rather than the legislature. Lawmakers should be returning local power to local governments. This bill would be a significant step in the wrong direction.

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