AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to create a new Office of Policy and Management, with expanded investigatory powers, is generating bipartisan concern among lawmakers.
“This is a big difference and maybe there should be [concern],” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta. “Very few entities or individuals are allowed to issue subpoenas without court permission.”
The new OPM would take over some of the responsibilities of the State Planning Office, which would be abolished under the governor’s proposal. The planning office has the authority to seek a subpoena to get information it needs, but only with the approval of a judge. The OPM proposal would allow that new agency to issue subpoenas, and if a person or entity failed to respond to the subpoena, the OPM would have to go to a judge to enforce it.
“That is a pretty sweeping authority,” Katz said. “I am not sure I want to give that authority to someone without a judge being involved.”
Rep. Ken Fredette, R-Newport, agreed with Katz and said he first raised his concerns about the investigatory powers of the new agency in January when he saw a draft of the legislation. He agrees a judge should be involved before a subpoena can be issued.
“In terms of protecting state government and individuals, I think it makes more sense,” he said.
Fredette said if the subpoena request is reasonable, he does not foresee a judge rejecting a request from the OPM. He said there needs to be a proper balance to protect from improper use of a powerful tool for investigation.
“This is really a fundamental change in the process that is being proposed,” he said.
Gubernatorial aide Jonathan Nass is the principal architect of the OPM legislation and he defended the subpoena proposal in the legislation.
“It seems logical that if we are asking this entity to have an ability to look across government and look at a broad spectrum of issues, if you have an uncooperative element you have the ability to investigate,” he said. But, he said, the subpoena issue is “not a big part of the bill” and that the administration is willing to work with lawmakers to draft acceptable legislation.
Rep. David Webster, D-Freeport, said he sees the bill as proposed to be “overreaching” and hopes the administration can work out language with members of the Judiciary Committee that is acceptable to the Legislature.
“I for one would be more comfortable just going back to what the State Planning Office has now,” he said.
Nass said there are several types of subpoenas in state law used by various agencies.
“There are a number of different breeds of subpoenas,” he said. “In civil litigation as part of discovery, a subpoena can be issued by an attorney, there are a number of subpoenas in use.”
Nass said LePage’s vision for the new office is one that can look at issues and problems across state government and provide him with an analysis of how to address those problems. He said it would be similar to the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President, except it would focus on the management aspects of government, with budget issues left to the Budget Office in the Department of Finance and Administration.
Rep. Joan Nass, R-Acton, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee, said Friday her committee spent time last week discussing the issue at the request of the Appropriations Committee. She said committee staff found 122 instances in state law where agencies are given the right to issue subpoenas.
“Our staff is working with the governor’s office to come up with the right subpoena language. We expect to review that and make recommendations to the Appropriations Committee next week,” she said.
The legislation establishing the new OPM is included in LePage’s proposed supplemental budget, along with language that abolishes the State Planning Office and parcels out its responsibilities to other state agencies. The Appropriations Committee hopes to finish work on the budget in early April.