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home : news : city news January 18, 2017

1/10/2017 7:25:00 AM
REINS Act storms back: Bills on state, federal level seek to curb bureaucratic power

Richard Moore
Investigative Reporter


Bills to require legislative approval of major regulations have been introduced in the Wisconsin Legislature and in Congress, and the early betting is both will become law.

In Congress last week, a bill by U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Georgia), the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, roared through the House 237-187 and is also expected to pass the Senate. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to sign it upon taking office.

The REINS Act would require all new rules that have a fiscal impact of $100 million or more to be approved by Congress and the president. Right now, executive agencies can enact major rules at will, with Congress having only passive review authority (meaning a bill to block the rule must be approved by Congress and the president). In Wisconsin, Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee) introduced a Wisconsin version of the legislation.

"State agencies currently have the power to pass harmful regulations with little oversight from the Legislature that can cost Wisconsin businesses and citizens tens of millions of dollars in compliance and lost revenue," LeMahieu said. "Under the REINS Act, any agency rule that will cost an industry or business more than $10 million in costs and/or compliance must get approval of the Legislature to move forward."

Neylon said the measure would give regular citizens and businesses a proper voice in the rule-making process, which they do not now have.

"This bill adds additional oversight by allowing the Legislature to request independent Economic Impact Analyses on agency cost estimates," Neylon said. "The REINS Act will hold bureaucrats accountable and improve the regulatory climate in Wisconsin."

The Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce came out in immediate support of the legislation.

"Regulatory reform continues to be a top priority for our state's business community," said Lucas Vebber, WMC's director of environmental and energy policy. "This legislation increases transparency and holds bureaucrats accountable. We strongly encourage all legislators to sign on as co-sponsors of this bill."

In WMC's most recent economic outlook survey of Wisconsin CEOs, regulatory reform was consistently listed as a top priority, Vebber said, adding that CEOs thought the number one thing Wisconsin could do to improve the business climate was reducing regulations.

Aaron Powell, WMC's Small Business Committee chairman, said he knew first-hand as a small business owner how costly regulations could hamper growth and economic development.

"This legislation is a critical step that our state needs to take in order to rein in the bureaucracy and empower our elected officials to fight back against the costliest of regulations," Powell said.

Co-sponsorship for the legislation closes on Tuesday, Jan. 17.



The outlook, the details

A similar bill introduced last year in Wisconsin passed the Assembly but bogged down in the Senate.

Senate leaders said the bill made its way into the chamber too late in the session, but the legislation had also been surprisingly opposed by the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business. In an interview with The Times after the session ended last year, Senate majority leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he thought the bill would be back in a more acceptable form in 2017.

"The quick answer is, we were at the end of session, and we just didn't have the votes for it," Fitzgerald said of last session's effort. "I couldn't get the caucus comfortable."

But dialogue on a state bill had continued, the Senate majority leader said, and he believed lawmakers were close to having a bill that would be palatable.

Gov. Scott Walker has also said he will sign a REINS Act bill if the Legislature passes it.

Neylon and LeMahieu said the legislation would reform the rule-making process in three fundamental ways.

First, it would institute a $10 million dollar cap on new rules and regulations passed by an agency. In other words, they say, any agency wishing to pass a rule that will cause an industry or business to incur more than $10 million in costs and/or compliance must get approval of the Legislature before the rule moves forward.

Second, it creates the option for the Legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules to request a public hearing early in the rule-making process to give citizens and industry representatives a chance to voice their opinions.

Finally, the lawmakers stated, it gives the JCRAR the ability to request an independent economic analysis for a second opinion on what the cost of compliance would be for Wisconsin's business community. On the federal level, Collins said his bill signals that Republicans have made regulatory reform a top priority.

"The REINS Act is one of the first bills of this Congress to target the regulatory abuses of the executive branch," Collins said. "For too long, executive overreach has fostered burdensome regulations that hamper growth at the expense of hardworking Americans. It's time Congress reasserts its constitutional authority to legislate, rather than letting unelected bureaucrats institute rules that impact the economy to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars."

The incoming president apparently agrees.

"I will sign the REINS Act should it reach my desk as president and more importantly I will work hard to get it passed," Trump said in a statement during the campaign. "The monstrosity that is the federal government with its pages and pages of rules and regulations has been a disaster for the American economy and job growth. The REINS Act is one major step toward getting our government under control."

The liberal Center for American Progress doesn't fall in line, however, saying the bill would effectively shut down key federal agencies.

"Those who would have the public believe that regulation is the problem are pulling a fast one," two of the group's leaders wrote in a Jan. 4 letter to leading lawmakers. "In fact, the real problem is just the opposite: special interest capture of our regulatory system. The REINS Act and other 'regulatory accountability' legislation magnify corporate capture exponentially, increasing corporate influence at the expense of protections that keep families safe and help everyday Americans get a fair shake. Instead of tying the hands of agencies charged with protecting the American public, we urge you to fight for a regulatory system free from overwhelming corporate and special interest influence."





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