Little decides to ‘spark joy’ with agency rules reduction

Sharon Fisher//January 22, 2020

Little decides to ‘spark joy’ with agency rules reduction

Sharon Fisher//January 22, 2020

photo of brad little
Gov. Brad Little recently issued two executive orders reducing the number of administrative rules and making them easier to understand. Photo by Sharon Fisher

After a summer of Marie Kondoing Idaho state rules, Gov. Brad Little wants to do it every year.

The governor announced two executive orders on Jan. 16. The first, “zero-based regulation,” called for agencies to examine 20% of the state’s administrative rules each year and look for ones to eliminate or streamline.

The second, “Transparency in Agency Guidance Documents,” stresses that rules, which are promulgated by state agencies as a means of implementing laws legislators pass, are not themselves law. “Transparency in Agency Guidance Documents” also makes it easier for the public to find out where rules come from.

“The nature of government is to grow, and that’s not a malicious thing,” Little said.

Little had signaled his intention to issue the first executive order during his State of the State message on Jan. 6.

How did we get here?

Last year’s Legislature failed to pass the “drop dead” bill, which normally continues rules to the next year. This gave Little’s office, working with agencies, broad latitude to look at rules and eliminate or streamline them. As a result, 75% of the state’s rules were reduced or eliminated, leading him to call Idaho the “least-regulated state in the Union.”

Little had issued the “Red Tape Reduction Act” executive order in 2019 requiring agencies to  eliminate or simplify two rules for every new one they wanted to impose. Last year’s legislative conflict meant that effort succeeded beyond Little’s wildest dreams. Instead of 2-1, it was more like 83-1, he said.

Little said the zero-based initiative wasn’t predicated purely on the summer’s effort, but was something he’d wanted to do anyway. As lieutenant governor under Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter, Little had issued an executive order to simplify licensing requirements.

The zero-based effort, in fact, is reminiscent of Otter’s zero-based budgeting initiative starting in 2008, where the governor more thoroughly examined about 20% of agency budgets each year.

Examined rules would be spread across several agencies each year, and agency rules would likely be spread across multiple years, rather than legislators being expected to examine all the rules in the Department of Health & Welfare in a single year, Little said. A schedule is supposed to be available by Oct. 1, and agencies aren’t supposed to add any rules this year, according to the executive order, which also repeals the “Red Tape Reduction Act.”

What’s the Legislature doing?

The Legislature is reviewing and accepting rules. This is how the Legislature typically starts the session – the only legislature in the country to do so – but this year the Legislature has to accept all the rules, not just new ones. Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, president pro tem, had said at the beginning of the session he expected it to take a couple of weeks longer than usual.

The Legislature is also still working out a compromise on approving or rejecting rules between the current system, in which only one body has to approve a rule, and a system preferred by the House, in which both bodies would have to approve a rule. The logjam over that bill is what led the House and Senate not to pass the “drop dead” rule last session.

“We’re walking toward each other,” but the two bodies have not yet met in the middle, said Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

Hill indicated that leadership had reached an agreement over the summer, but the members were still working on it. While the Legislature could theoretically add an emergency clause to the bill and have it apply to this year’s rulemaking process as well, Hill had said at the beginning of the session that the new law would go into effect for next year’s rules process.

It’s apparently also not out of the question the two bodies could fail to pass the “drop dead” bill a second time, but both Little and Legislative leadership said they hoped that wouldn’t happen.