MacIver News Service | May 2, 2017
By M.D. Kittle
[Madison, Wis...] - A bill aimed at bringing greater oversight of state bureaucratic rule-makers is a step closer to becoming law.
On Tuesday, the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, commonly known as the REINS Act, passed the Republican-controlled Senate on a nearly party-line vote, 19-14.
Sen. Devin LeMahieu, co-author of the bill, celebrated passage of a measure supporters say will check the damaging overreach of government agencies.
"State agencies currently have the power to pass harmful regulations with little oversight from the legislature that can cost Wisconsin businesses and citizens tens of millions of dollars in compliance and lost revenue," the Oostburg Republican said in a statement following passage. "The REINS Act improves transparency in the rule making process and gives the legislature more power to hold unelected bureaucrats accountable."
Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay, was the lone Republican vote against the measure. Cowles said the REINS Act is unnecessary.
"I'm sure I'm the only one against this on my side of the aisle," Cowles said during floor debate Tuesday afternoon.
Democrats insist the REINS Act would undermine regulations designed to protect the public.
The REINS bill is similar to legislation moving through congress, but with lower thresholds. It provides greater legislative oversight of the regulations adopted by state agencies. Any rule or regulation with an economic impact of more than $10 million would require legislative approval.
And it gives the legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules more muscle. The committee would be empowered to request a public hearing earlier in the rule-making process and call for an independent review of the proposed regulation's economic impact.
"Right now, regular citizens and businesses don't have a proper voice in the rule-making process," LeMahieu said. "This bill adds additional oversight by allowing the legislature to require a preliminary public hearing earlier in the rule-making process and request independent Economic Impact Analyses on agency cost estimates."
The REINS Act, co-authored by Sen. Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, passed the Assembly last session. It is expected to do so this session. Gov. Scott Walker included the reform in his budget, but REINS was one of 83 "non-fiscal" policy items stripped from the Joint Finance Committee's starting budget document.