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Is the legislature trying to micromanage state government?

How one bill could alter the work of numerous state agencies

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Last week the House Education Committee passed HB 1609 on to the full House for consideration. The bill calls for the removal of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction as the chair of the State Board of Education in order to allow the board to elect its own chair. On Monday, Feb. 2, the Senate Rules and Legislative Procedure Committee will hear bills with similar goals. And there are other bills in both chambers that would make the superintendent an appointed position instead of an elected one.

However, on Tuesday, Feb. 3, the House Government and Regulatory Reform Committee will hear a bill with a greater reach for the state legislature.

House Bill 1351, authored by Rep. David Wolkins, R-Warsaw, seeks to place restrictions on rulemaking. According to the digest of the bill it “Voids state administrative rules, guidelines, and other policies or standards that are not specifically authorized by state statue or do not implement a federal requirement. Establishes the office of regulatory accountability in the Legislative Services Agency to review administrative rules for compliance with regulatory goals specified by the general assembly.” The bill would repeal much, if not all, of Indiana Code 4-22-2.

So what does that mean exactly?

In essence, the bill would strip any authority for making policy rules from the various executive state agencies that run the state’s day-to-day operations. Every state agency, like the Department of Natural Resources, State Department of Health, Department of Environmental Management, etc., have commissions and boards that make and enact the rules of action within that given agency. These boards are typically made up of individuals from the general public who have a vested interested in the topic and mission of the agency. The governor typically appoints the positions with very specific guidelines for the appointments, for example, boards must be politically balanced and have representatives from specific areas of interest that are essential to the agency’s mission or service.

HB 1351 would change all of that.

“This bill disables agencies with vast technical expertise from proactively solving problems,” says Jesse Kharbanda, Executive Director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. Karbanda is very concerned with the overreach potential in the bill.

“Regulatory agencies have had long-standing, statutorily authorized ability to enact prudent regulations aimed at protecting the public's health and environment,” says Kharbanda. “This bill, in its present form, would not only completely undermine their future discretionary rulemaking ability, but their many years of hard work creating prudent regulations that were not explicitly authorized by federal or state law.”

Instead of letting the appointed experts in each given field address the problems and rules facing the agency, HB 1351 would put everyone’s issues under one roof, an “office of regulatory accountability” within the legislative service agency. The office would then review the rules according to the goals set forth by the general assembly. Kharbanda says this would be actually make government less efficient.

“Agencies like IDEM or IDNR or IURC [Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission] or ISDH could be paralyzed in going forward with rule-making, slowing the administration of state and federal law,” says Kharbanda.

The vast impact of the bill on multiple state agencies is what has the Hoosier Environmental Council so concerned and watching what happens. “It’s very disturbing legislative branch overreach,” says Kharbanda. “This bill overturns decades of long-established practice by Indiana's executive branch.”

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