Analysis: Legislature cedes rulemaking approval to Little

By Melissa Davlin

Over the last several years, the Idaho Legislature has paid closer attention to the administrative rulemaking process — a critical bureaucratic function of the government in which departments and divisions create rules that specify how certain statutes are carried out.

But in an attempt to center more power with the Legislature, the House and Senate just surrendered significant authority to Gov. Brad Little.

At the end of the 2019 session, the legislature failed to reauthorize the state’s existing rules, as they normally do every year. The reason: A fight between the House and Senate over how those rules should be approved. Currently, just one body’s vote ensures a rule is approved. The House wanted both bodies to sign off to save a rule from rejection, giving the legislature more control over the process.

Without any action from Little and his staff, all 8,000-plus pages of those administrative rules would expire at the end of the fiscal year on July 1.

Instead of calling a special session to make lawmakers finish their homework, however, Little is using his executive authority to re-up those rules. And in the process, “Governor Little ultimately will make the decision before July 1 whether to let a rule expire,” according to a Tuesday press release from his office. 

Administrative rules have the full force of law, and cover a wide range of topics — which immunizations school children need, what types of medications pharmacists are allowed to dispense, what an electrician needs to do to get a license. Common core curriculum is in administrative rules, as are the hotly debated climate change standards.

While Little has said he didn’t want this to happen, and that he doesn’t plan any major changes, he still has ultimate authority over which rules will carry over into the next fiscal year.

Agencies will also get the chance to weigh in.

“Governor Little’s administration will use the unique opportunity to allow some chapters of Idaho Administrative Code that are clearly outdated and irrelevant to expire on July 1, 2019,” the press release states. “An agency must notify the Division of Financial Management (DFM) if it identifies a rule that could be eliminated. DFM will solicit public comment on any proposed rule elimination.”

In a fight over an obscure bureaucratic process, this could either set a wild precedent for future years, or teach the legislature to finish its chores before leaving to play.

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