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That’s obsolete: State agencies fail to identify, report outdated rules

By   /   February 11, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

By Tom Steward | Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

MN House of Representatives photo

OBSOLETE RULES OR REPORT? Watchdog survey finds most MN state agencies fail to file required annual report on obsolete, unnecessary or duplicative state regulations.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Even as Gov. Mark Dayton works to streamline laws already on the books, many agencies fail to report obsolete rules that need to go away.

A Watchdog Minnesota Bureau analysis found about one-third of the nearly 100 agencies and boards with administrative rule-making authority apparently have never filed the report, according to online records maintained by the Office of the Revisor of Statutes dating to 2000.

“The statute not only requires agencies to report their obsolete rules, but it further says of those things you identify in last year’s report, tell us the status,” said Paul Marinac, who posts the reports online as the deputy revisor for drafting.

Twenty-seven state agencies complied with the most recent “Annual Report on Obsolete, Unnecessary or Duplicative Rules” due Dec. 1, 2013 — less than one-third of rule-making state entities. The law requires a report even if officials fail to identify any outdated rules. The agency must also recommend a timetable for repealing the rule or submit a bill rescinding the rule to the appropriate legislative committee.

Agencies promulgate administrative rules to clarify the requirements for implementing or updating laws enacted by the Legislature. For example, MNsure published about 9,000 words of new rules in 2013 to guide Minnesotans’ use of the new state health insurance exchange.

“It’s certainly important to keep our rules up to date and current for the public,” said Elizabeth Carlson, administrative rules coordinator for the Department of Natural Resources. “That’s who they’re for, giving people guidance on what’s expected of them and how to be in compliance.”

When lawmakers passed the obsolete rule requirement in 1995, the Legislative Commission to Review Administrative Rules was in charge of tracking and enforcing the process of cleaning up thousands of rules already published. A year later, however, the Legislature abolished the LCRAR.

“They were sort of a watchdog agency and the idea was the LCRAR would look at these reports every year and follow up and see if the agencies were actually complying with the law and if they were eliminating these obsolete or unnecessary rules,” said Marinac, who years ago oversaw the process for the LCRAR.

The rule-reduction reports go to Dayton, Legislative Coordinating Committee, Revisor of Statutes and legislative policy committees with corresponding oversight. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on whether Dayton has followed up with departments and agencies that fail to file the reports.

The annual record-keeping exercise for some smaller boards and agencies reads like carbon copies from year to year.

“This rule became obsolete in 2001, when the corresponding Minnesota Statute 148.106 regarding Peer Review of services and fees was repealed,” states the Minnesota Board of Chiropractic Examiners 2013 report.

“Next year I will probably have something to put into the obsolete rules letter,” said Ruth Grendahl, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Podiatric Medicine. “But I, too, in the past have said, ‘Ok, why do I do this?’”

Larger state agencies tend to issue the annual reports more consistently, working with legislative committees to rewrite or repeal unneeded rules identified on their checklists. “Our last couple of reports have had a lot of obsolete rules listed because last year we were one of a handful of agencies required to do an agency report on all of our rules, a very thorough review,” said Carlson of the DNR. “So we picked up on quite a few things at that time. Normally in most years this report only lists a few things that we happened to notice.”

Even revamping rules on eyebrow threading, waxing implements and “nail technicians“ gets tracked in the Minnesota Board of Cosmetologist Examiners reports.

“The reason you attempt to shorten them is to make it simpler for licensees,” said Gina Stauss, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Cosmetologist Examiners. “… You simplify it, you use consistent words throughout. That’s how we are attempting to reduce the volume of regulatory authority.”

So does Minnesota have fewer rules on its books than when the “Annual Report on Obsolete, Unnecessary or Duplicative Rules” took effect?

“I’m still trying to think about is there anything our office can do to answer that question,” said Marinac in the revisors office. “How much stuff has been removed in the last 10 or 15 years? I’m still noodling on that and I haven’t given up on figuring out a way to do it.”

Contact Tom Steward at [email protected]

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Tom formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.