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NJ Assembly Approves Creation of Special Joint Committee on Investigations to Continue Inquiry Surrounding GWB Lane Closures

Prieto, Greenwald & Wisniewski Measure Will Now Combine Efforts of Assembly & Senate to Streamline Investigation Into Allegations of Abuse of Power

The New Jersey General Assembly on Monday approved a resolution creating the New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigations that will combine the efforts of the Assembly and Senate to investigate questions surrounding the decision to close access lanes to the George Washington Bridge and other matters raising concerns about the abuse of government power.

The measure (SCR-49/ACR-10), sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and Assemblyman John Wisniewski, was approved by a vote of 70-0. An identical measure, SCR-49, was also approved by the Senate today, formalizing the creation of the committee.

“Based on the expert advice of our special counsel, the optimal way to proceed is to streamline the legislative investigations and make clear to everyone that we expect full cooperation and responsiveness as this inquiry proceeds,” said Prieto (D-Hudson/Bergen). “This is the best way to ensure that the people of New Jersey get the answers they need to these questions about the abuse of government power.”

“The new joint legislative committee will strengthen our bipartisan effort to follow the evidence and obtain the answers the people of New Jersey deserve,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “With all the questions about the abuse of government power that remain, this joint committee will have the enhanced resources necessary to continue what has so far been a professional and pragmatic inquiry based on hard evidence.”

The 12-member, bipartisan, bicameral committee will now be co-chaired by Wisniewski, who has led the investigation thus far as Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg.

The committee will also be comprised of Asw. Marlene Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic); Asm. Michael Patrick Carroll (R-Morris/Somerset); Sen. Nia Gill (D-Essex/Passaic); Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer); Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington); Asw. Amy Handlin (R-Monmouth); Sen. Kevin O’Toole (Bergen/Essex/Morris/Passaic); Asw. Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen/Passaic); Asw. Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen); and Asw. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon).

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar, of Jenner & Block LLP, who was the lead investigator and prosecutor in both corruption trials of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, will continue to provide special legal counsel to the new joint committee.

“Throughout the earlier stages of this investigation, it became clear that for every answer we uncovered, many more questions arose,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “Forming this joint committee is the best way to streamline and expedite our inquiry in order to obtain the answers we need to prevent future abuses of power. I look forward to continuing to work with Sen. Weinberg, Mr. Schar and all the members of this committee to get the answers New Jerseyans need.”

Chief among the powers conferred on the committee through the resolution are the ability to:

  • issue subpoenas to compel attendance and testimony and the production of books, papers, correspondence, other documents and materials, and electronic records and data;
  • hold hearings, take testimony under oath, and receive documentary or physical evidence;
  • convene a meeting or hearing to determine the adequacy of the return and rule on the objection if a return on a subpoena or order for the production of documentary evidence is incomplete or accompanied by an objection;
  • make findings and reports to the Senate and General Assembly of any recommendations;
  • use its existing powers to hold individuals and organizations in contempt of the committee, and
  • respond to any judicial or other process, or to make application to the courts of this state, any other state, or the United States.

The resolution, and the powers it authorizes, expires at noon on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, which is the end of the new legislative session that began this month.