TRENTON – Amid allegations of partisanship, the Democrat-led Assembly today OK’d the formation of the joint Legislative Committee on Investigations to pursue answers regarding last year’s George Washington Bridge lane closures.
Following the Senate’s vote, the lower chamber approved the resolution ACR10/SCR49 by a vote of 70-0 but not before wrangling again over issues of equal access to documents and the scope of the committee’s investigation.
Democrat John Wisniewski, co-chair of the new panel, said that this enables both houses to cooperate in an efficient manner to investigate abuses of power at the Port Authority. “We have a lot of questions we need to have answered,’’ he said.
But Republican Dave Rible raised questions about immediate equal access to documents, an issue Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi raised when the Assembly SCI was created on Jan. 15.
Wisniewski said today as he has before that the committee will use the same process prior investigative panels used. He said that this process would help prevent public release of “damaging,’’ but unrelated documents.
Republican Amy Handlin, one of the GOP committee members, said having co-chairs is a step in the right direction, but recommended a Republican person be named as a third leader of sorts. “It would prove that this effort is more than a witch hunt,’’ she said.
Wisniewski shot down any suggestion of some “neutral third-party tie-breaker.”
“There is no need to change the format that we’ve used.’’
Republican BettyLou DeCroce then took issue with the resolution wording that would give the SCI broad power to look into areas other than just the Port Authority. “It appears that the committee is going to look into the Hoboken matter,’’ she said, a reference to Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allegations that the administration tied Sandy recovery aid to a development approval.
Wisniewski’s response: “We can’t predict what other information will come before the committee. We need to use all the tools that are at our disposal.’’
Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll, another of the GOP committee members, said he was one of the prime sponsors of the resolution to investigate the Port Authority, but he too had reservations about partisanship, based on how the sole meeting of the now-defunct Assembly SCI was conducted.
Wisniewski countered that Republicans are trying to have it both ways: They want documents released immediately to the entire committee, but they also have raised cautionary flags about documents being released that could be damaging to people not connected to this investigation.
But Republican Gregory McGuckin said it is not fair that the committee co-chairs and the Office of Legislative Services will have access to documents first and then they will be given to the rest of the members.
Addressing all of the GOP criticisms, Democratic Majority Leader Lou Greenwald said, “This is not a witch hunt. We know one thing. There was an abuse of power. We don’t know how deep it goes.”
Minority Leader Jon Bramnick said that “The Republicans in this chamber will support this continued investigation to get to the bottom of what appears to be very disturbing emails and text messages.”
But he said that the GOP would be abrogating its responsibilities as a minority party if it didn’t insist on fairness and bipartisanship.
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