House Republicans are dialing up the tension at the Idaho Capitol after a late-session attempt to overhaul how state agencies’ rules are approved.
While the term “administrative rules” might make a person’s eyes gloss over, these rules are ubiquitous in state government. They include everything from what curriculum is taught in public schools to the fees you’re charged when you enter a state park.
Thousands of pages of these rules expire every year unless lawmakers reauthorize them – and that might just happen come July.
That’s because House Republicans Wednesday tweaked a bill that would renew the administrative code in order to give them more power in approving some new rules. They tried running a bill earlier this year to do just that, but the Senate refused to take it up.
“We didn’t take that position lightly then and with the passage of time our resolve has not changed,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley).
When new rules are proposed, some of them only need to be approved by either the House or the Senate. Bedke and others in his caucus want both chambers to have a say.
“This is a way for the legislature to reclaim its rightful lawmaking powers,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle (R-Star).
The Senate quickly, and unanimously, rejected the bill amended earlier in the day by the House.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder (R-Boise) says changing this rulemaking process well past the legislature’s target date to adjourn isn’t going to happen.
Instead, he says he’d be open to putting together a working group to study the issue.
“[Rule making is] constitutionally provided for – something that is pretty unique – and I think we need to protect it and guard it and do it right,” Winder says.
If these rules expire, the governor’s office can renew them temporarily, but they’d still need a thumbs up from the legislature to become permanent.
It could open Pandora’s box where all existing rules, like last year’s new science standards to teach Idaho public school students about climate change, could be eliminated next January since temporary rules need both House and Senate approval.
The potential cost to taxpayers could also be significant if every rule is allowed to expire.
Rules have to be printed in the Administrative Bulletin for public notice. Dennis Stevenson, the state Administrative Rules Coordinator says that could cost nearly $400,000 based on the current per-page rate his office charges state agencies.
Stevenson thinks it would take his staff of three people two to three weeks of full-time work to properly convert existing rules into temporary ones.
Idaho lawmakers typically have to review about 200 new rules each year, he says, but reauthorizing the entire administrative code book would be a massive undertaking.
The Senate is expected to draft a new bill Thursday morning to reauthorize the existing rules, but it’s unclear how much headway it will make in the House.
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