WAUKESHA, Wis. – A bill that aims to rein in state spending and provide more oversight of the executive branch is getting a second wind this state legislative session.
Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, and Sen. Devin Lemahieu, R-Oostburg, have reintroduced the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) bill in the Wisconsin legislature. The bill would require state agencies to get legislative approval for any regulation with an economic impact of more than $10 million.
“If there is a compliance estimate above $10 million, then I’m very comfortable throwing a wrench into it, grinding it to a halt, and forcing the legislature to then approve it,” Neylon told Wisconsin Watchdog. “Because that is the best way to hold people accountable is to let their elected officials be the ones to decide on big spending items.”
The bill would allow the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules to request a public hearing earlier in the rule-making process before the economic costs are determined. After a determination is made, REINS also would allow an independent review of a proposed regulation’s economic impact, if the Administrative Rules committee requests it.
“Just having this tool, I think will hold bureaucrats more accountable because they’re not going to want the scrutiny that goes with having an independent economic analysis done,” Neylon said.
The bill also would require the Department of Administration to determine the regulatory agency’s ability to create the rule.
“Previously that was done through the governor’s office,” Neylon said. “I think that having that additional check and balance through the Department of Administration will allow for a drawback of some of that executive power.”
Neylon said that while the current administration under Gov. Scott Walker is very aware of the need to control regulations that hurt businesses, the bill is necessary to control regulatory growth under future administrations.
“The thing that I really want out of this bill, if you could boil it down to one thing, we basically freeze costly new regulations,” Neylon said. “An administrative rule like phosphorus or a state version of the Clean Air Act couldn’t get through the administrative rule-making process because we would block it until the legislature could vote on it.”
A similar bill passed in the Assembly in 2016 on a party-line vote but stalled in the Senate due to opposition from environmental groups and the Wisconsin branch of the National Federation of Independent Business. Environmental groups such as Clean Wisconsin and the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters feared that the law would stop the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources from issuing new regulations to protect the environment. Neither organization responded to requests for comment on the reintroduction of the bill.
The NFIB objected to the bill in 2016 because it would have sent regulations affecting small business to the Office of Business Development before the state Small Business Regulatory Review Board. The Small Business Regulatory Review Board is a group of appointed volunteer small businesses owners that reviews and comments on rules and regulations that affect small business.
NFIB, however, is dropping its opposition to the current bill, which simplified the regulatory review process, leaving the regulatory review role of the Small Business Regulatory Review Board intact.
“The current bill that is being circulated has removed the small business regulatory review process from its application,” said Bill Smith, director of the Wisconsin NFIB, in an interview Wednesday. “So the current small business regulatory review process will continue with no change under this bill. This bill also does not provide additional responsibilities for unelected bureaucrats as the last bill did.”
“We’re certainly not going to oppose it,” said Smith. “We certainly believe that the people that we elect should have oversight and play a key role in the regulatory review process.”
A congressional version of the REINS Act passed in the House earlier this month. The bill requires any regulation with an impact of $100 million or more to pass Congress and be signed by the president.
Jeremy Symons, associate vice president of climate change policy at the Environmental Defense Fund, insists the bill “aims to obstruct even basic protections by requiring all new covered regulations to be approved by both chambers of Congress.”
“Under REINS Act, If either branch of Congress does not approve any covered rule within 70 legislative days, the rule becomes null and void and cannot be re-issued. This effectively gives one chamber of Congress veto power over any new significant public health and safety protection, no matter how non-controversial or sensible it may be.,” Symons wrote in a recent column for The Hill.
Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, said the legislation “will provide more accountability and transparency before major rules or regulations take effect,” and “help make sure the government gets it right.”