A Republican bill unveiled Monday would set an expiration date for all state administrative rules — a proposal conservative business groups cheered and Democrats worried would overburden state agencies.
The new system would upend the process for reviewing both nettlesome regulations that businesses say stifle the state’s economic growth and longstanding protections for consumer health and workplace safety.
Under the proposal from Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna, and Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, new regulations would expire after seven years unless in the year before an expiration date a state agency flagged the regulation for review.
Legislators on certain committees would be able to object to rules being extended, which would then require the rule to be rewritten and go through the normal rule-making process.
Existing regulations would sunset on a timeline to be set by the Legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules. The bill also requires agencies to eliminate the use of words and phrases that are outdated or that are now understood to be derogatory or offensive.
The bill would effectively flip the onus for cleaning up the state’s hundreds of pages of administrative rules from legislators to state agencies, Steineke said. Rather than legislators combing through the administrative code for rules they want to eliminate, agencies would have to keep tabs on which rules they want to keep.
“I anticipate the way this is going to work (for) the vast majority of rules, the agencies will petition the Legislature to adopt them and the vast majority of rules will be re-adopted,” Steineke said.
The state’s administrative rules, many of them written over the decades by state agencies to flesh out regulatory details not spelled out in legislation, have the force of law and regulate businesses in a variety of ways.
They cover the gamut of state regulations, from clean drinking water, air quality, food safety and voting rules to pet licensure, campground permitting and amusement park ride safety. There are rules governing disposal of hazardous waste, high school graduation standards, nondiscrimination in afterschool programs and how the state runs health programs for the mentally ill and seniors.
Steineke said state agencies will be the first line of defense to preserve important, noncontroversial rules.
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“There’s enough checks and balances,” Steineke said.
Currently, state regulations are in place permanently unless repealed by the agency or challenged by the administrative rules committee.
The bill is supported by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity — a trio of powerful business-aligned interest groups that have helped Republicans gain and retain control of all three branches of state government.
WMC president Kurt Bauer said in a statement that the state’s recent designation as a top-10 state for doing business in Chief Executive magazine was the result of Republican efforts to improve the state’s regulatory climate. He called the latest bill “a game-changing reform.”
“This legislation would build on the great work that has been done over the past six years to improve Wisconsin’s regulatory climate and push back on the ever-growing regulatory state,” Bauer said.
Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, a member of administrative rules committee, said the bill panders to conservative business groups while creating more red tape for agencies. He said the current process for the committee to review rules has been working just fine.
“It really suffocates what these agencies have to do and creates more work for them unnecessarily,” Hebl said. “Imagine the amount of work that entails. It’s a monstrosity.”
Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said the bill would jeopardize clean water protections, weaken financial safeguards and undermine workplace fairness rules. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, R-Kenosha, said it would upend departments that serve children and families and protect natural resources by forcing them to spend all their time reworking administrative codes.
“This bill creates more red tape than it cuts, which makes me think that it is more about getting rid of old rules that Republican donors want changed than it is about protecting Wisconsin residents and businesses,” Barca said.