Guest column: Summer legislative rule-making

State administrative rulemaking mostly occurs when legislators aren’t in session, writes Randy Stapilus.

You may think of state lawmaking – the work most visibly done by legislators in their formal sessions, which in Idaho mostly run in January through March – as a winter time activity.

But that’s not all, by a long shot. Lawmaking is going on now, even without factoring in initiatives like the Medicaid expansion measure just approved for the ballot.

There is also state administrative rulemaking, which goes on around the year, mostly when legislators aren’t in session. Summer is a relatively busy time.

State Representative Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, mentioned this in a recent constituent email. She wrote, “Remember that administrative rules are developed by bureaucrats and lobbyists on a monthly basis throughout the year and are required by law to take into consideration all public input and comments received. Citizens can even request public hearings in their communities to get additional information.”

She went on to sound a bit alarmist about some of it, noting that the state rules often incorporate language from federal or other sources outside Idaho. (That’s done so that Idaho can coordinate and cooperate with other states in commerce and other ways.) But she’s correct that rulemaking is substantial in scale, and in urging citizens to get more involved. Most are neither aware nor active enough about it.

Generally, state law (which legislators mostly work on) is intended to state a policy and general guidelines, but administrative rules fill in the gaps, provide the details the legislators didn’t address. Often new state laws specifically instruct state agencies to develop rules to carry out the law. The agency rules can become extremely detailed; the state administrative code, covering rules for most agencies, is many thousands of pages long.

Fortunately, it is available online (at adminrules.idaho.gov), and updates appear in a regular place, the Idaho Administrative Bulletin, which is published toward the beginning of each month. The updates can be significant all by themselves; July’s is more than 200 pages long, which is not unusual for this time of year. (It goes relatively quiet while the legislature is meeting.)

Scott listed in her email some of the items covered in the most recent one, from the rules covering accountants, electrical inspections, pharmacist licensing, school math test requirements, examinations for professional engineers, small employer health reinsurance programs, sales tax provisions covering out of state sellers, sales tax refunds, permit fee prices at the Department of Parks and Recreation …

… temporary vehicle permits, government license plates, changing the funding rules for career technical schools, water quality standards in certain areas, property tax exemptions during construction, exemptions involving research and development at the Idaho National Laboratory, library grant requirements, commercial filming in state parks …

And a good deal more.

All of this is wide open to public comment and participation. Few people from the public actually do get involved. Scott is correct in noting that state agencies and interest groups (often represented by lobbyists) are most active and tend to determine how the rules are written. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This may seem like dry stuff. But look through the rules and bulletin sometime. You may find some that affect you, and then it’ll seem dry no longer.


Randy Stapilus, a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor, blogs at www.ridenbaugh.com. He can be reached atstapilus@ridenbaugh.com. A book of his Idaho columns from the past decade, “Crossing the Snake,” is available atwww.ridenbaughpress.com/crossing.


ADVERTISEMENT