Legislative Pulse: Wisconsin REINing in Agencies’ Regulations

Published August 21, 2017

Editor’s Note: Two-term Wisconsin state Sen. Frank Lasee (R-Ledgeview) serves as vice-chair of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee and chair of the Insurance, Housing, and Trade Committee, also serving on the Labor and Regulatory Reform Committee.

Burnett: You cosponsored Senate Bill 15, known as the Wisconsin REINS Act. What will the new law do?

Lasee: In Wisconsin, much like at the federal level, we have seen career bureaucrats often handing down expensive, extensive, and in some cases damaging rules. We have witnessed bureaucrats purposely enacting rules during times when the legislature was not meeting or through channels that didn’t allow for any legislative oversight.

These rule changes can cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, and at the federal level, billions. They drive loss of business, reduce American companies’ competitiveness abroad, and result in cost increases, often causing the poorest among us to pay more for everyday things they need.  

The Wisconsin Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act gives the legislature oversight in the rulemaking process, with three changes to Wisconsin law:

  • Requires any rule with a fiscal impact exceeding $10 million over two years must have a vote by the full legislature before taking effect.
  • Gives the legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) more power to request an independent economic impact analysis of a proposed rule.
  • Allows for the JCRAR to request a public hearing on a proposed rule change earlier in the rulemaking process, giving all those affected by a proposed rule the ability to voice their opinions.

The Wisconsin REINS Act improves oversight and increases transparency and accountability in the rulemaking process. It puts the elected legislators in charge of new, expensive administrative rules.

Burnett: Wisconsin is one of 27 states challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) in court. The CPP has been stayed by a federal court and is under review by President Donald Trump’s administration. Do you support Wisconsin’s challenge to the CPP?

Lasee: The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is one of the greatest examples of why the REINS Act is needed on the federal level. The CPP is a blatant overreach by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pass the agency’s agenda without approval from Congress.

According to a study by the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University and the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, the CPP would force Wisconsin residents to pay an additional $225 a year and commercial businesses $1,530 more per year for electricity. The study found the rise in electricity prices would lead to nearly 21,000 Wisconsin jobs lost and disposable income dropping $1.82 billion over the next 15 years.

These price increases and job losses were created by bureaucrats sitting behind a desk in Washington, DC, many of whom, I am willing to bet, have never set foot in Wisconsin.

Burnett: Wisconsin was one of 20 states to challenge the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which was stayed by federal courts and is in the process of being repealed by the Trump administration. Do you agree with Wisconsin’s decision to fight WOTUS?

Lasee: I fully support Wisconsin’s decision to fight the Obama administration’s WOTUS rule. WOTUS was a power grab by the Obama administration without congressional input, giving the federal government limitless power over the vaguely defined “waters of the United States,” violating states’ rights and federalism. The EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were ready to take over regulation of land that only sees water during 100-year floods, as well as roadside ditches and small creeks that only contain water once or twice a year.  

Having EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt withdraw the rule will be a very happy day for everyone, especially farmers. WOTUS would require farmers and others to apply for federal permits to do many normal, everyday farming practices like planting, spreading fertilizer, and applying pesticides.

The federal government can’t keep passing “one size fits all” legislation, because what works in Wisconsin doesn’t necessarily work in California, Maine, or Florida. A federal REINS Act would better protect all Americans from federal bureaucracies run amok issuing WOTUS-type rules, by requiring a vote of Congress before costly regulations can take effect.   

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.