While political geeks were obsessing over Foxconn and the state budget, Eric Bott writes:
Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin are once again showing conservative reformers nationwide how to get the job done. This month, lawmakers sent Walker the first state version of the REINS Act to be passed by a legislature, and Walker, who has championed the reform, is expected to sign the bill soon.
The REINS Act, introduced by state Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and state Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee), restores much-needed transparency to the rule making process by requiring that the costliest of regulations receive approval from the full legislature before taking effect. The need for this reform is clear.
Our jobs and our businesses have become so heavily regulated by unaccountable government agencies that a 2016 survey of U.S. small business owners revealed that an average of “4 hours per week is spent dealing with government regulations and tax compliance, which totals to over 200 hours per year.”
This growing regulatory burden at the federal and state levels represents a threat to both our economy and our democratic institutions.
Under the REINS Act, any regulation costing businesses, local governments or the public $10 million or more over a two-year period will require approval by the legislature.
It’s a change that’s long overdue.
In 2010, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources promulgated strict new limits on phosphorous released by factories and wastewater treatment plants. The “Phosphorus Rule” is now estimated to cost more than $7 billion over the next 20 years.
According to the state’s economic impact analysis, “When fully realized, the cumulative impact of these additional costs are expected to result statewide in lower Gross State Product (“GSP”), reduced wages, fewer jobs and a smaller statewide population.”
No elected official ever had the opportunity to cast a vote on a regulation that will cost Wisconsinites billions of dollars and directly affects some of Wisconsin’s biggest industries, including cheese making, food processing and paper mills.
Had the REINS Act been in place, this rule would likely have been stopped, or at least made less costly and more effective. And any legislator who approved it would have been held accountable to voters.
The REINS Act also allows the Wisconsin legislature to request independent economic impact analyses to ensure that state government cost estimates for proposed regulations are accurate. This is key to preventing rogue agencies with their own agenda from gaming the system.
By limiting the power of state agencies to unilaterally impose costly rules, these reforms will provide long-term regulatory certainty to Wisconsin businesses. Over time, an improved and honest regulatory environment will attract new investment and jobs.
Gov. Walker deserves tremendous credit for championing this bill. It’s rare for a governor to acknowledge that the executive branch has become too powerful and return power to the people – but that is exactly what Gov. Walker is doing.
As a further check on executive overreach, the bill gives the legislature the ability to indefinitely suspend existing administrative rules. Thanks to these measures, future governors will not be able to circumvent the legislative process and enact their costly agendas by executive fiat. …
The bill will do much to restore democracy to the administrative rules process, improve transparency and allow citizens to better hold elected officials accountable.
It will also serve as a model to other states seeking to cut red tape. No American should be subject to the arbitrary whims of the regulatory state, and legislation like the REINS Act can help counter this growing threat.
Walker signed the bill into law yesterday, saying, “One of our top priorities for Wisconsin is ensuring government services are effective, efficient, accountable, and operate at good-value for the citizens of our state. This bill allows for more input from citizens and stakeholders before a new rule is drafted, ensures expensive or burdensome rules are subject to legislative scrutiny and approval, and creates additional oversight over state agencies.”
The reason this law is grossly overdue is explained by the MacIver Institute:
A brand new report has found that Wisconsin’s administrative code contains nearly 160,000 regulatory restrictions. The report was published by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a market-oriented academic research center.
It would take the average person 667 hours, or almost 17 weeks, to read the 2017 Wisconsin Administrative Code, assuming that person spent 40 hours per week reading at a consistent rate of 300 words per minute. Utilities, food manufacturing, and chemical manufacturing are the top three most-regulated industries in Wisconsin, according to the report.
Law through administrative rule is one of the worst features of state government because the Legislature never has an opportunity to vote on the law. That is fundamentally unconstitutional, regardless of what the administrative rule is. If it’s a needed rule, the Legislature should vote on it.