Va. Senate adopts bill to limit attorney general's power to investigate at colleges
The Democratic-led Virginia Senate has approved a bill to strip the attorney general of the power to issue civil subpoenas of academic work at universities, a reaction to an attempt by Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to seize e-mails and other documents related to the work of a former University of Virginia climate scientist.
The Senate adopted the bill on a vote of 24 to 16, after one of the chamber's most conservative members acknowledged that Cuccinelli's effort has made even some Republicans uncomfortable.
Two Republicans -- Sens. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (James City) and Frederick M. Quayle (Chesapeake) -- voted with all 22 of the chamber's Democrats in approving the bill, which will most likely be rejected by the GOP-led House of Delegates.
"There are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who share these same concerns about that particular use of the attorney general's investigatory powers," said Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg). But Obenshain urged the senators to reject the bill as overkill.
"Are we really going to suggest that because you don't like what the attorney general has done in an investigation of an area that is apparently politically verboten -- climate change -- that we ought to strip the attorney general's office for time immemorial of the ability to investigate fraud in a public body?" he asked.
But supporters of the legislation said the attorney general's efforts are violating academic freedom, and his power to solicit documents at universities -- particularly prior to filing a formal civil action in court that can be reviewed by a court -- should be restricted.
"I think we have better things to do than going through their in-boxes," said Sen. J. Chapman "Chap" Petersen (D-Fairfax), the bill's sponsor.
Using a 2002 law designed to root out public corruption,
Cuccinelli has demanded that the university turn over documents and e-mails related to the work of Michael Mann, a former university climate scientist whose research showed that the Earth has been warming.
Cuccinelli has said he wants the documents, including grant applications and e-mails exchanged between Mann and 39 other scientists and university staffers, to help determine whether Mann committed fraud by knowingly skewing data as he sought publicly funded grants for his research.
Several previous investigations of Mann's work, including one by Pennsylvania State University, where Mann has worked since 2005, found that there was no evidence that Mann engaged in efforts to falsify or suppress data.
Rosalind S. Helderman
| February 3, 2011; 1:38 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Ken Cuccinelli, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate
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