A Senate panel has recommended changes to a 2014 law that empowered the Attorney General to investigate complaints against elected county officials.
From 1996, when state oversight of county prosecutors was curtailed, until the 2014 law took effect, complaints at the county level were handled by county prosecutors, setting up potential conflicts of interest. The 2014 law, while eliminating those conflicts, created its own set of issues.
“With two years of experience, we know more than we did then,” said Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, who sponsored the 2014 change and new proposed revisions.
Rice told the Senate Judiciary & Rules committee Wednesday that most of the complaints received by the AG’s office since 2014 had been unfounded. One of the proposed revisions would limit the scope of complaints referred for investigation to criminal matters only. There are other procedures available to citizens for filing civil complaints, Rice said.
The second change would allow the Attorney General’s staff to carry substantiated complaints through to prosecution. Previously, the office conducted a preliminary review, referring cases meriting prosecution back to the originating county for further action.
That transfer back to the counties also dragged out the process.
“We do have some of these complaints that can be for political purposes,” Rice said. “We want to handle the ones that need an investigation. But we don’t want to set up a circumstance where someone could be facing allegation that they don’t get to respond to, that hangs out there for months while they, as an elected official, may be having to stand for re-election.”
The committee moved the bill to the full Senate with a recommendation to approve it.