Herald-Leader Editorial

Reject plan to clutter constitution

February 2, 2014 

To implement laws passed by the Kentucky General Assembly, executive branch agencies of state government issue about 700 regulations a year.

An Administrative Regulations Review Subcommittee, with four members from each legislative chamber, takes a look at most of these regulations and occasionally finds a proposal the panel deems "deficient."

But the subcommittee is a bit of a toothless tiger because executive branch agencies can make their proposed regulations effective despite the "deficient" designation.

Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, told a committee Wednesday that 21 of the 42 regulations the subcommittee found deficient between 2000 and 2013 were put into effect anyway.

No doubt this is frustrating to legislators, particularly the eight members of the subcommittee.

But Senate Republicans' current idea for alleviating the frustration is both flawed and unnecessary.

Senate Bill 1, sponsored Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, proposes to amend the state constitution to allow the legislature "to establish by general law a process permitting the General Assembly, or an agency or committee of its own members that it creates or designates, to review, approve, or disapprove any administrative regulation" issued by executive branch agencies. And any regulation disapproved in this process "shall be void and unenforceable."

Now that the General Assembly meets annually, by the time executive branch agencies issue regulations implementing laws passed in the previous regular session, it's just a few months until lawmakers will be back at the Capitol for the next one.

Then, they can correct any "deficient" regulations by passing new laws, without any extra cost to taxpayers.

It's not a perfect system, but it's worked reasonably well through the administrations of both Democratic and Republican governors in recent years. And with no huge outcry from either party, until Gov. Steve Beshear established health exchanges under the Affordable Care Act last year.

That's when Senate Republicans decided it was time to clutter up our state's already Byzantine constitution with a few more unnecessary details.

SB1 is flawed because any "process" lawmakers could come up with would create more problems than it would solve.

If the existing subcommittee is given the power it lacks now, you would have eight lawmakers making ironclad decisions about what the other 130 General Assembly members intended when they passed a law.

Sure, you can increase the size of the subcommittee. But at some point well before the panel's membership reaches 70, the number necessary to include a majority of all state lawmakers, you go light years beyond ludicrous and reach certifiable.

To be really certifiable, you could go with the other alternative being discussed: having the House and Senate vote as committees of the whole during the interim between sessions.

Since only the governor can call special legislative sessions, it's questionable whether this would even be legal. But even if it is, it seems way cumbersome to bring all 138 legislators to Frankfort to vote on 700 administration regulations.

Great way to pad their salaries, though, since they get paid by the day.

If the House doesn't reject amendment, voters should.

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