Friday, October 23, 2015

House Passes Bill To Make It Easier To Block Regulations, Policies

By a vote of 113 to 84, largely among party lines, the House Tuesday passed House Bill 965 (Godshall-R-Montgomery) that would make it much easier for the General Assembly to block regulations and statements of policy by executive agencies.
The issue behind the bill was a dispute between the House Consumer Protection Committee and Public Utility Commission over regulations the PUC adopted to deal with the polar vortex electricity cost spikes in 2014, but the bill applies to all regulations.
A spokesperson for Gov. Wolf said the bill would make the rulemaking process grind to a halt.
The PA Environmental Council last week wrote to members of the House expressing its objections to the bill. Here is the text of the letter sent by PEC--
Dear Representative:
On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, I am writing to express our opposition to House Bill 965 (P.N. 1885), which may come up for a vote the week of October 19. This legislation fundamentally alters established procedure for publication and review of proposed rulemaking that fall under the purview of the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.
Our objections to the legislation are as follows:
First, this legislation would block publication of agency Statements of Purpose in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. There is no rationale for this revision to existing practice – in fact, it decreases transparency by limiting information provided to the public.
Second, this legislation enables standing committees of the General Assembly to unilaterally postpone Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) consideration of rulemaking proposals without any predictable or certain timeframe for resolution.
Currently, the Regulatory Review Act gives standing committees the power to further review or disapprove a regulatory proposal after the IRRC – which consists of four legislative appointees and one appointee of the Governor – has voted on it.
Moreover, the IRRC does not vote until after a proposal has been vetted by legal and scientific experts, subjected to review by the general public (including the General Assembly and Attorney General), and, in some cases, considered by other governmental agencies like the Environmental Quality Board (which includes representation from the standing committees).
Under existing law, when a standing committee invokes its power to review or disapprove, a regulatory proposal is stayed for a definite period of time, and can eventually be brought to a vote before the full legislature. In short, the General Assembly’s current oversight power is both substantial and well defined.
By contrast, House Bill 965 would enable standing committees to invoke the power to “further review” proposed regulations before the IRRC votes, and provides an uncertain timeframe for such review by allowing for the greater of a set number of calendar or joint session days.
As we know, there are prolonged periods where the General Assembly is out of session, meaning that such review could extend over several months. This is unreasonable and could have the affect of invalidating rulemaking proposals merely by lack of review within a definite timeframe.
While we understand the importance of ensuring that standing committees receive all necessary and supporting information for review of regulatory proposals, House Bill 965 prevents some of that same information from being provided to the public at large, and creates greater uncertainty for review and finalization of proposals.
We believe this legislation, as currently written, is against the public interest and should be opposed by members of the House of Representatives. Thank you for your consideration.
John Walliser, Vice President, Legal and Government Affairs, Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
For more information on initiatives and programs, visit the PA Environmental Council website.
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Editorial: Lawmakers Try To Thwart Regulations

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