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Bartz: Many legislators continue to work even after session ends

From Iowa Senator Merlin Bartz –

Yes, you are correct in thinking that the 2012 Legislative Session was completed weeks ago. Interestingly enough, in some respects, the job of some legislators after the session has wrapped up is not done.  In fact, for certain committees, the workload actually gets heavier.

One of the committees that has an extra work load during the time when most legislators return to their “other” occupations is the Administrative Rules Review Committee, commonly referred to as the ARRC. The ARRC is comprised of ten members, five from the House and five from the Senate.  The majority party in each chamber names three members and the minority part names two.  The ARRC was created by legislation in the late 1970’s to institute a legislative check and balance on executive branch agencies promulgating or passing rules during the time the legislature was NOT in session that didn’t meet the intent of the legislation. The high school government class example I always use as an illustration is this:  The legislature passes a bill stating that all DOT enforcement vehicles be baby blue.  If the agency came with a rule that stated all DOT enforcement vehicles be baby blue, except undercover enforcement vehicles which could be any color the department determines, the proposed rules would not be matching with the law, and in that situation, conversations would occur regarding the intent of the legislation and whether or not the department has the authority to pass such a rule.

The job of this ten member, bi-chamber ARRC is to critique agency rules—ALL agency rules and make decisions regarding those rules.  In some cases the decision is simple.  The agency may have been given wide parameters in statute to write rules that the legislature intentionally did not want to put in the Iowa Code or intentionally wished to leave vague.  Agencies would have much latitude in those cases.  In other situations, the ARRC will give suggestions for improvements and ask the agency to come back with corrections. On rare occasions, the ARRC may disagree with the agency as to the intent.  In those situations, the committee has a few courses of action to take.  One option is to delay the rule for a set period of time, ranging from a few days to after the adjournment of the next session (which right now would be close to a year). Another option is to object to a rule, which changes the burden of proof to the state if indeed litigation was brought in court challenging the rule.

The ARRC also has the power to ask for a regulatory analysis or issue a general referral to another legislative committee. And on occasion, the ARRC can actually draft a nullification resolution and send it to the House and Senate for debate.

Most people pay some attention to the legislature and debates concerning proposed laws during the legislative session. But rules have the same effect as law, and that is why as a State Senator, I spend a lot of time reading the Administrative Rules Bulletin, which comes out every two weeks all year long.  As much as these rules may seem harmless, I’m sure glad I spotted the problems with the RICE (Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engine) rules in December of 2010. Why?  Because for customers of municipal utilities, these DNR promulgated rules would have meant much higher electric bills. How much higher? As an example, in New Hampton it would have been about thirty additional dollars a month, just because of some words a state agency was putting in a document that hardly anybody read.  Fortunately, the ARRC delayed the rules at my urging, and the governor rescinded them in January of 2011.  And who said words don’t mean anything?

Until next week………

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