Senate passes important bill to rein in agency regulations

Feb 18, 2016

By a 26-23 vote, on Wednesday the Senate passed SB 6396, legislation that would establish a much-needed check and balance system on agency rulemaking activity. 

SB 6396 would prohibit agencies from adopting or amending a rule without first submitting it to the Attorney General for an opinion as to its constitutionality and legality.   The bill would also set a one-year expiration date on agency rules unless the Legislature passes legislation to extend the rule.  If the Legislature allows a rule to expire, agencies would be barred from adopting the rule again unless expressly authorized by statute. This Legislative Memo analyzes the provisions, and benefits, of SB 6396 in more detail.

Many lawmakers made impassioned floor speeches for and against SB 6396.  The bill’s sponsor, Senator John Braun, said the regulations passed by unelected agency officials over the last 10 years filled more pages than the Bible, War & Peace and the Lord of the Rings trilogy combined.

A highlight was when Senator Brian Dansel recounted how an agency official tried to explain to him the legislative intent of a bill.  Sen. Dansel’s point—it was a bill he wrote and the agency’s interpretation was most definitely not his intent.  Others in favor of the bill explained that businesses in their district have long complained of agency over-reach and have been asking for this type of legislative oversight for years. 

The primary arguments against SB 6396 consisted of concerns that requiring legislative approval of every regulation would take too much of the Legislature’s time.  Several lawmakers also declared that they do not have the expertise to weigh in on regulations passed by agencies.  They said the agency officials were the experts and should be making such decisions. 

After the bill passed, Senator Cyrus Habib sent this message via Twitter, “the type of deregulation that Senate R’s just passed is what led to the #FlintWaterCrisis.”  WPC Government Reform Director Jason Mercier promptly noted in response that what happened in Flint was not the result of water protection rules that were repealed by the Michigan Legislature.  And WPC Environmental Director Todd Myers explained what happened in Flint was not a problem of deregulation, it was a failure of oversight, as evidenced by the fact the regional director of the Environmental Protection Agency, along with three other government officials, resigned over the controversy.

SB 6396 in no way amounts to deregulation.  It simply allows the elected representatives in the legislature to have the final say on agency regulations.  

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