Idaho governor has unfettered chance to cut state rules

Posted at 2:44 AM, Apr 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-18 04:44:29-04

BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's governor now has sweeping authority to eliminate thousands of state-approved rules without public participation or lawmaker oversight.

That's because the state Legislature, which is controlled by Gov. Brad Little's fellow Republicans, failed to pass 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.

The measure died when the legislative session concluded last week amid open acrimony between the chambers.

The rules Little is 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.

All of 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."

The situation in Idaho contrasts with other states, like Wisconsin, where the GOP-controlled Legislature sought to limit the powers of the Democratic governor.

Little said residents can trust him to be fair.

"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."

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.

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."

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.

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.