Legislature’s inaction on agency regs may be its greatest accomplishment

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The most monumental thing the 2019 Idaho Legislature did is what it didn’t do: The Legislature didn’t reauthorize thousands of pages of agency regulations. Those regulations, euphemistically called administrative rules, will expire this summer. The regulations cover every aspect of Idaho life, from public education to professional licenses. There’s a rule for just about everything, and those rules have the full force of law.

The Legislature’s decision to do nothing is more or less the product of a spat between the House and the Senate, but the end result is still fantastic. Gov. Brad Little’s administration will need to reinstate each regulation, one program at a time, hopefully leaving a lot on the cutting room floor. (As a side note, I think some regulations can’t or shouldn’t be reinstated immediately because they don’t constitute emergencies, as defined by state law.)

The reinstatement, or better still, elimination, of regulations could be Little’s chance to shine, offering his administration a chance to leave a mark on Idaho’s regulatory landscape. Little has often complained that Idaho has too many regulations. He’s regularly indicated that his administration would like to trim the “musts,” “shalls,” “shall nots,” and other regulatory mandates on Idahoans, much of which has been a cumulative result many years of more additions than subtractions from Idaho’s administrative code. So far, Little has signaled his seriousness about the endeavor. He’s hired Alex Adams, formerly a regulation-cutter at the Board of Pharmacy, to run the governor’s budget office, the Division of Financial Management. Little, with the blessing of the Legislature, has given Adams control over administrative rules.

But deciding the final disposition of each and every agency regulation may be more than Little had in mind. There’s more to Idaho regulations than rules about how many doors a pharmacy has or the specific training needed to become a licensed cosmetologist. For example, one regulation added in 2018 allows Idahoans to defy science and opt for a different gender on their birth certificate. Another requires Idaho high school seniors to get a meningococcal vaccine in order to attend public school. Additionally, Idaho’s administrative rules contain the much-maligned (for good reason) Common Core education standards. Little can now do more than just rein in the administrative state. He has a chance to discontinue a plethora of bad public policies.

Furthermore, Idaho’s unique process means the Little administration’s decisions regarding each reauthorized regulation would be subjected to a House and Senate vote to be reinstated. That’s one reason conservatives in the Idaho House of Representatives are beaming. Many existing rules—including the aforementioned Common Core rules, immunization requirements, and birth certificate regs—have been shielded from scrutiny because they required only the blessing of a single committee or committee chairman. Throughout the years, much of the Legislature has been cut out of the decision-making process.

Now, all existing regulations will have to pass through several filters to remain in place: Little’s, the House’s and the Senate’s. Through that process, Idahoans should expect to see a reduction in agency regulations and the elimination of policies that have no business being on the books in Idaho. In that way, the best thing from the 2019 legislative session is yet to come.