Lawmakers OK subpoena power in impeachment cases

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The next time an Alabama official faces impeachment, some lawmakers want the Legislature to have subpoena power — a question that wasn’t entirely clear during the recent investigation of former Gov. Robert Bentley.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted without dissent Wednesday to let lawmakers issue legally-enforceable subpoenas during impeachment proceedings. They’re trying to close a loophole that allowed former Bentley to avoid complying with a legislative investigation into whether he committed offenses that warranted his removal from office.

The Senate bill’s sponsor said lawmakers could issue subpoenas in their investigation of Bentley but had no means to enforce their requests for documents or interviews.

“Perhaps we could have issued a subpoena but someone could just as easily look at us and go ‘I don’t intend to do that,'” said Sen. Phil Williams, a Gadsden Republican. “And that could leave the proceedings somewhat feckless.”

Lawmakers gave special counsel Jack Sharman subpoena power in an impeachment probe into the former governor but his subsequent report showed that Bentley and many other people refused to participate in the investigation.

In an interview, Sharman said it’s “a good idea” to clarify lawmaker’s abilities during impeachment investigations.

“There’s certainly good reason to make this explicit,” he said. “The governor has a constitutional duty to respond to the Legislature.”

Bentley resigned Monday after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors related to campaign finance violations that came to light during an investigation of his alleged affair with a top aide.

The bill now moves to the full Senate for a vote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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