RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – When the new budget goes into effect next week, state lawmakers will have significant new investigative powers that Democrats compared to a “secret police force.”
Republicans pushed back on that criticism, but the changes to the legislature’s oversight committee come amid a series of other changes Republicans have pursued that would give the General Assembly more power.
The Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations will have the authority to look into state and local government agencies as well as non-state agencies that receive public funds either directly or indirectly.
The legislature will be able to access documents and records. Requests for information by the commission would be considered confidential and not subject to open records laws. People who fail to cooperate could be charged with a misdemeanor.
“If you do business with the state, and your business is registered at your home, then partisan legislative staff from Gov Ops could go into your home without a warrant to get documents from your home, including computer files,” said Sen. Graig Meyer (D-Orange) during debate on the budget. “I am upset because this is a level of intrusion of government that I don’t think the majority of us want whether we are Republican or Democrat.”
Republicans dismissed the concerns raised by Democrats and said the changes they’re making stem from the commission’s effort to look into issues with the state’s response to hurricanes.
Years after hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Florence (2018) devastated parts of North Carolina, some people were still waiting for their homes to be rebuilt and struggling to find out why it was taking as long as it was.
Republicans questioned members of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration on the handling of the matter, and officials acknowledged during hearings that the pace of recovery had been too slow.
“Why is it taking so long for these people to get back in their houses? What’s taking so long. So, when our Gov Ops committee went in and started asking these same questions, they were stonewalled as well,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland).
The commission has looked into other matters as well, such as the use of federal funding tied to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the role of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
Democratic Rep. Allison Dahle, of Wake County, said the changes made through the budget go too far, comparing the commission to a “secret police force” she said could lead to “grudges being carried out.”
“For the life of me, I don’t understand why any government entity needs this much control on a partisan level,” she said. “This is not a way for us to run our government, folks. This is a scary, scary step.”
While the commission is majority Republican, Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) noted lawmakers in both parties have staff on the commission and said the changes were meant to eliminate “roadblocks.”
“It’s not a partisan thing. It is something that is designed to assist the General Assembly and all members of the General Assembly in carrying out our constitutional obligations to oversee the money that’s being spent,” said Sen. Berger. “We think this is an appropriate step to take in order to carry out our constitutional obligations.”