Republicans in North Carolina are facing criticism for including a measure in their state budget critics say will create a “secret police force.”
North Carolina’s state budget is set to expand the authority of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, a legislative investigative committee. The changes will allow the committee to investigate state a local government agencies, “or non-State entity receiving public funds.”
The budget will allow the GOP-controlled committee to access “any documents or records related to any contract awarded by a State agency, including, but not limited to, (i) records related to the drafting and approval of the contract and (ii) documents and records of the contractor that the Commission determines will assist in verifying accounts or will contain data affecting fees or performance,” according to its text.
Democrats have raised concerns about this measure being a government overstep, arguing that the text would state allow agents to enter any government contractor or subcontractors’ homes to access these documents. Republicans have argued the committee’s expanded scope is necessary to ensure greater oversight following criticism over the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent hurricanes.
State Representative Allison Dahle compared the investigative body to a “secret police force” during debate on the budget on the floor of the House. She warned that it would “give carte blanche to legislators and legislative employees to look into any entity that receives state funding,” according to The News & Observer.
“This secret police force can even come into, for example, a law firm that receives state funding for court-appointed lawyers. This now means that the sanctity of the attorney-client privilege is now defunct,” she said.
State Senator Graig Meyer warned that the budget would give “Gov Ops broad, intrusive, & punitive powers to investigate any state entity or any ‘non-state entity’ that has pretty much any connection to the State of NC at all,” in a post to X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
“Let’s say you’re a subcontractor to a contractor w a state agency…get ready to turn over your docs,” he wrote.
Republicans, however, have defended the legislation against Democratic criticism.
“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,” State House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, said, according to a report from Raleigh-based television news station WNCN.
Senate leader Phil Berger, also a Republican, told the news station that expanding the committee’s authority is “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,” he said.
Newsweek reached out to Speaker Moore’s office for comment via email.