SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah's lawmakers have given their approval to a series of bills that pave the way for a House committee to investigate Attorney General John Swallow.
In a special session on Wednesday, the Legislature approved measures that give the House investigative committee subpoena power, immunity power, the ability to hire counsel and private investigators from outside of Utah, should they so choose, and the option to close the doors on their meetings if the topic is sensitive and not ready for public consumption.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, spoke out against the legislation as he said the Legislature is moving too quickly with creating a committee without considering the long-term consequences. Ivory called for the lawmakers to take time to define what the scope of the committee should be. Ivory, who has been opposed to creating the committee from the beginning, said the process is "taking a bazooka potentially to a fly."
"The actions today are the architects for tomorrow," Ivory said. "I don't understand why we are afraid to examine and identify the scope to then narrow the cost."
Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, the House majority leader, countered that the investigative committee has no definition of scope because it is only an investigative committee. He stated it has no power to do anything other than find the facts about the allegations surrounding Swallow. Once the House is able to obtain the facts about the attorney general, then they can decide for themselves if they should move forward with any action of impeachment.
Concerns were also raised about the legislation, as it does give the committee power to close its doors to conduct interviews, seek legal counsel or discuss strategy. Rep. David Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain, voted against the proposal as he worried that the public's trust cannot be restored if the work is not done in the open.
The three bills dealing with the investigative committee passed both legislative bodies with large support from both sides of the aisle.
While legislation was put in place to allow for the investigative committee to do their work, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, announced which lawmakers will serve on the committee that is to investigate Swallow.
Lockhart assigned five Republicans and four Democrats to the committee and named freshman lawmaker Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, as the committee chairman. The speaker put full confidence in Snow, who is a past president of the Utah State Bar, and the committee and stated their work will be something with which Utahns could be pleased.
The committee will also include Dee and the House Minority Leader Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City. Utah County's Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, along with Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City, Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake City, and Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna.
Lockhart said each member was selected because of the respect he or she had from the House, as well as availability, institutional knowledge and work experience. Only two lawyers, Snow and McKell, are on the committee.
"We are an investigative committee charged with fact finding," McKell said. "We will conduct a careful and thoughtful investigation."
Seelig said she supports the partisan makeup of the committee favoring the Republicans by one. She expects that the committee will be judicious in its investigation and said she does not expect party politics to come into play while the investigation is conducted.
"I'm walking into this with a clean slate and an open mind, there is no agenda," she said.
The committee is expected to begin work in August. A request for proposal for legal counsel for the committee has already been issued. Once that counsel is obtained the committee can move forward with their investigation.
Swallow is being investigated by the federal government, the Lt. Governor's office, two county attorneys and the Utah State Bar for various accusations. He has maintained that he is innocent of any wrongdoings.
In addition to the Swallow-related bills the Legislature repealed a law it approved earlier this year, which sought to limit federal law enforcement officials within the state. The bill was blocked in court last month and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said he wants to regroup and take on the issue again later. The Legislature also approved paying nearly $3 million to longstanding case between Deep Creek Ranch and the State Armory Board.