Politics & Government

Idaho governor has unfettered chance to cut state rules

Idahoans can trust him to do the right thing, Republican Gov Brad Little said, after the Legislature handed him sweeping authority to eliminate thousands of state-approved rules without public participation or lawmaker oversight.

“I’m not looking at this as an opportunity to do mischief,” Little said during a public appearance Tuesday. “I do not want to exacerbate this thing. This was not our deal. We did not do this.”

The Legislative session concluded last week amid open acrimony, with the House and Senate killing legislation important to the other chamber. Among the carnage was a bill approving 8,200 pages containing 736 chapters of rules and regulations that touch on just about every aspect of daily life in Idaho.

That means all those rules expire on July 1 — except the ones Little chooses to keep on a temporary basis until the Legislature can consider them early next year.

“This is an unusual situation,” said Jaclyn Kettler, a Boise State University political scientist. “It does open up a pretty big opportunity for Gov. Little.”

Little has made clear his desire to cut regulations in Idaho, issuing an executive order in January requiring state agencies cut two rules for every new one.

The rules he’s now reviewing include such things as protecting consumers, homeowners, the environment and school children. They range from hunting and fishing licenses and seasons to licensing for health care professionals and construction contractors. They are mostly products of the state’s obscure but important negotiated rulemaking process that involves public participation.

Alex Adams, administrator of the Idaho Division of Financial Management — or Little’s budget chief — has the job of going through the 8,200 pages.

He said among the rules he intends not to renew is an antiquated entry that’s emblematic of the kind he’s looking for. It’s a 1961 rule requiring that the State Department of Agriculture’s deputy state veterinarian “be attired in neat, clean and correct clothing when performing official work.”

“We are working closely with the (state) agencies,” Adams said Wednesday. “We would not make any decision that is not supported by the agencies.”

Adams said the result when the July 1 deadline arrives will be “that no Idahoan should notice a difference. It will be business as usual with some minor cleanup of things.”

Idaho publishes online the Administrative Bulletin that’s updated with rules. It’s likely that rules that are allowed to expire will be made apparent to the public in some way, Adams said.

A big unknown is what happens when the Legislature meets again in January. Usually, the first several weeks are used to approve new rules. Now, lawmakers might have to consider all 8,200 pages — or whatever is left when Adams finishes his work.

“This is kind of uncharted territory,” he said.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder said he was concerned the Legislature might be abdicating its authority to Little when the House and Senate were unable to pass the administrative rules bill.

Part of the discussion about that bill between the Senate and House was a letter, requested by Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke, from the Idaho attorney general’s office looking at the constitutionality of how the two chambers approve administrative rules, which are put forward by the executive branch.

In the April 11 letter obtained by The Associated Press, the attorney general’s office concludes that the Legislature’s current procedure for approving administrative rules is “extra-constitutional” because it sends the bill to the governor for his signature. All the Legislature needs to do, the attorney general’s office said, is have the House and Senate agree to the new rules without approval from the governor.

It’s not clear how that’s going to play out next session. Winder said the Senate and House will have a working group this year figure out how to proceed. One possibility is doing what’s called a concurrent resolution, he said, meaning approval by the two chambers that doesn’t require the governor’s signature.

It’s also not clear if the House and Senate will find some way to speed up the process of reviewing the thousands of rules before the Legislature meets again.

“I think some people are looking forward to going through all of them just so see what all of them are,” Winder said.

One of those lawmakers is Republican Rep. Judy Boyle, who chairs the House’s Agricultural Affairs Committee. Committees consider new rules — and perhaps next session all the rules — in meetings that take public comments. In general, she would like to see fewer regulations.

“I just hope Idaho citizens understand that this is a reset on rules,” she said. “Idaho citizens have a great opportunity if they just take it.”

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