EDITORIAL: In need of scrutiny

Mar. 21, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

Legislative efforts may be unfolding in Washington which would address the stifling impact regulations have upon the economy — and especially on job growth.

The legislation would rein in the power of unelected bureaucrats to establish and implement regulations as well as ensure elected officials take a more active role in approving or rejecting major rules. Although these rules carry the full force of law, elected officials do not specifically vote upon them; instead, rulemaking is delegated to government bureaucrats who aren’t accountable to lawmakers.

Finally, it appears some lawmakers are taking a keen interest in the regulatory process.

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the regulations imposed upon Americans have grown in each of the last 30 years. Everything from pollution limits to health standards for school lunches are covered by federal rules. The Code of Federal Regulations is published in the Federal Register each year. When the first volume was published in 1936, it contained 2,620 pages. In 2012, it contained 77,249 pages. In the last decade, it has averaged 75,413 pages a year. At the federal level, regulatory agencies employ 283,615 people at a cost to taxpayers of $51 billion a year.

Legislation called “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny,” or the REINS Act, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2011, but was not voted upon in the Senate. Now, supporters in the Senate have filed the Reins Act of 2013. If passed, this legislation would require the federal agency proposing a rule to submit a report to Congress and the Comptroller General. A new regulation could be implemented only after being passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the President.

In addition, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has proposed two measures to gauge the direct impact that regulations have upon the economy. Under one his proposed laws, the Small Business Administration would be required to perform an annual study to determine the total cost of federal regulations upon small businesses and the economy. Under another proposal, there would be a study to determine the impact of regulations on the general economy.

Not unlike the federal government, North Carolina’s regulations could use some attention. During the last 20 years, officials have added an average of 2,360 pages each year; we now have more than 22,500 administrative rules.

We don’t know whether North Carolina lawmakers will take steps to rein in unelected state bureaucrats. That recommendation has been made, however, in a report by Jon Sanders, Director of Regulatory Studies at the John Locke Foundation. The report calls upon N.C. legislators to follow the lead of the U.S. House of Representatives. Under the REINS approach, the state legislative process would be used to determine whether impactful regulations would move forward. Such regulations would proceed only if they have majority support in the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

We hope elected officials at all government levels continue to re-examine their responsibilities. It is time for the public to hold them accountable for any over-regulation and for too often delegating their responsibilities to bureaucrats.