Tuesday preview: Rule-making

Tuesday morning, the Senate Agriculture committee will hear S22, a bill that could bring state rule-making to a grinding halt.

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Senator Harry Brown, R-Onslow

Tuesday morning at 11, Senate Agriculture will hear S22, a proposal that could bring the state’s rule-making process to a grinding halt.

The measure would forbid state agencies from making any new rules that result in “additional cost” to taxpayers, unless the rule meets one of the following exceptions:

  1. A serious and unforeseen threat to the public health, safety or welfare
  2. An act of the General Assembly or Congress
  3. A change in federal or state budgetary policy
  4. A federal regulation
  5. A court order
Full text of the bill (and that’s about it, really) is here.

The bottom line is that any new rule that results in higher costs to users or taxpayers would need approval from the General Assembly. Republican backers say it will keep state agencies from running rough-shod over small businesses and landowners as they seek to build or expand. 

Environmental and other advocacy groups are crying foul: What rule doesn’t cost something? Compliance has to be monitored, and enforcement has to be funded. Most agencies pay for these costs with user fees. (It’s a safe bet the state won't have money to cover those expenses this year.)

Molly Diggins with the Sierra Club notes that the bill would ban any rule that costs one extra dollar, without consideration of the money or lives the rule could save. She says the governing law for N.C. rule-making, the Administrative Procedures Act, “already requires a fiscal note for any new rule that ‘would have a substantial economic impact,’” adding that current law also “provides for a rigorous and protracted rule-making process, Rules Review Commission review and legislative oversight.”

“The North Carolina General Assembly lacks the resources or expertise to review every single petition for rule-making from every single agency/board/commission/etc.,” Diggins said in an e-mailed statement. “Nonetheless, SB22 shifts the burden of rule-making to the General Assembly and out of the hands of experts in the given subject areas.”

State agencies generate dozens of rules per quarter as they work to implement the laws the General Assembly approves. Most of them don’t get much (if any) attention. But under the bill as written, Diggins says, pretty much every rule would have to get the approval of a part-time legislature that can go 10 months between sessions.

The measure’s sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, has said it wasn’t intended to capture every rule that might cost a dollar or two. But that’s the way it’s currently drafted. We’ll probably see a more finely-tuned version of S22 at its first committee hearing tomorrow.

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