Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Senate Passes Bill That Reduces Transparency, Gives 1 Committee Power To Delay Regulations

The Senate Wednesday passed Senate Bill 977 which limits information given to the public on proposed regulation changes and gives one committee of the House or Senate the authority to delay consideration of any regulation.
The vote was 29 to 21 with only Republicans supporting.  The bill was introduced December 6 and passed by the Senate in one week.  No public hearings were held. The bill now goes to the House for action.
The text of PEC’s letter follows--
Today you may be asked to vote on Senate Bill 977, legislation similar to last session’s Senate Bill 562 that was vetoed by the Governor over concerns that it would cause uncertainty in the regulatory process and decrease transparency in state government. These concerns remain with the language of Senate Bill 977. For these reasons, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council respectfully asks that you oppose Senate Bill 977.
Specifically, our concerns with this legislation are as follows:
First, Senate Bill 977 would block publication of agency Statements of Purpose for rulemakings in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. There is no equitable rationale for this proposed revision to a longstanding, statutory practice – in fact, it decreases transparency by limiting information provided to the public.
Second, Senate Bill 977 enables standing committees of the General Assembly to unilaterally postpone Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) consideration of rulemaking proposals.
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, IRRC does not vote until after a proposal has been vetted by legal and scientific experts; subjected to review by the general public, advisory committees, the General Assembly, and the Attorney General; in addition to being vetted in other forums like the Environmental Quality Board.
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, Senate Bill 977 would enable standing committees to invoke the power to “further review” of proposed regulations a mere 24 hours before the IRRC votes, and sets an indefinite time frame by basing said review on the legislative calendar.
Given that there are prolonged periods where the General Assembly is out of session, this delay could extend over several months. This could have the effect of invalidating rulemaking proposals merely by lack of action by a single Committee within the mandatory rulemaking timeframe already set by law.
While we understand the importance of ensuring that standing committees receive all necessary and supporting information for review of regulatory proposals, Senate Bill 977 would block some of that information from being provided to the public at large, and create greater uncertainty for review and finalization of proposals.
Senate Bill 977 undermines certainty and transparency in the rulemaking process, and is against the public interest. We ask you to oppose this legislation.
Thank you for your consideration.
Click Here for a copy of the letter.
The prime sponsor of Senate Bill 977 said the legislation was needed to give committee additional time to review regulations.
On the requirement to remove the statements of purpose for a regulation for publication in the PA Bulletin for the public to see, the prime sponsor said, "There have been instances when courts have interpreted SOPs in a way that is either inconsistent with the regulations themselves or inconsistent with the intent of the General Assembly. This legislation seeks to correct those instances."
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