Those allegedly small-gub'mint Republicans are at it again in the state legislature, proposing a brand spankin' new law enforcement agency, beholden only to the governor, and apparently exempt from state public records law.
The proffered legislation comes in the form of a "strike everything" amendment from state Senator John Kavanaugh (on behalf of Governor Doug Ducey) to House Bill 2420, which would create an "office of the inspector general" to investigate fraud, waste and mismanagement in state government.
The state inspector general would be appointed by the governor and report only to him, and would have authority over inspectors general that already exist in various state agencies.
Where the language of the bill becomes alarming is in the description of the IG's law enforcement powers, which seem absolute in regards to state government.
All state agencies and state employees must comply with the new state IG or face possible sanctions. The new state IG will have subpoena power, and his or her employees will carry badges. You know, just like real cops.
The strikeall declares the state IG's office to be "designated as a law enforcement agency and conferred all investigative powers and privileges appurtenant to a law enforcement agency under state law."
The bill further says that the IG's powers and privileges include: "access to computer systems, information maintained for the use of law enforcement personnel and any information contained in the criminal history records and identification files of the Department of Public Safety."
The state IG will have broad access to state records. However, the public's access to the state IG's investigative records will be verboten, if I read the pertinent section correctly.
"The records prepared or obtained by the Inspector General in connection with an investigation conducted by the Inspector General are confidential and protected from disclosure. A privilege established by law may not be waived to any records obtained by the Inspector General in connection with the performance of the duties established in this chapter. Any records and information that are obtained by the inspector general and are confidential pursuant to any other law remain confidential."
And just in case you state employees get any funny ideas about pulling an Edward Snowden, any individual who "knowingly, intentionally or recklessly" makes public such confidential info would be guilty of a class one misdemeanor.
Not that this would have stopped Snowden, who has the huevos of a male hippo, but maybe it would give a state employee pause.
The striker is scheduled to go before the Senate Government Committee today at 2 p.m. I called Kavanagh about the bill. Essentially, he said he was just trying to help out the guv.
"The governor wants to have greater investigatory ability," Kavanagh told me, "for [investigating] waste, mismanagement, and perhaps even some wrongdoing. And the current [state[ auditor general is really just an accounting agency that reviews state agencies when their cycle is up or when they're specifically requested to look into a financial issue with an agency."
Kavanagh said this would give Ducey an IG like other state governments have.
The senator also said that he believed the new office would use existing funds, and therefore would not be an expansion of state government.
Ducey spokesman Dan Scarpinato also told me that this would use existing funds, and that the state IG was "one of [Ducey's] top legislative priorities this session."
He said Ducey wanted an IG like other states to root out "not only waste, fraud and abuse, but also corruption."
I asked who would prosecute these cases, presumably the state Attorney General? I also wondered about this apparent exemption to public records law in the striker.
Scarpinato said he would have to consult with the governor's legal counsel on both of those issues and get back to me.
When told about the new bill, Dan Barr of Arizona's First Amendment Coalition had an intriguing question.
"Why are they doing this as opposed to having the Attorney General do all of this stuff?" he asked.
Barr was concerned about the confidentiality provisions as well, and wondered about the breadth of the wording concerning the confidentiality provisions.
"If you're going to establish such an office to root out corruption in government, that should be as transparent as possible," he said.
Barr noted that this was part of a trend in state government, with the governor's office and the legislature seeing to block public access to information and the decision making process.
"There must be a calculus [among politicians]," he said of this rage for secrecy, "that maybe people in the media will get upset about it, but nobody other than them really cares."
But with the striker to HB 2420, one wonders if the legislature is willing to hand Ducey this unchecked power on a silver platter.
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The Attorney General's Office has yet to get back to me, but since such investigations normally would be the AG's bailiwick, it will be interesting to see if the new AG Mark Brnovich will take a position on Ducey's latest gambit..
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