Thanks to state Rep. Martin Daniel’s (R-Knoxville) proposed Regulations of the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act), Tennessee is now at the vanguard of a growing movement to bring transparency and accountability back to government.
Over time, legislators at all levels of government have increasingly delegated lawmaking authority to bureaucrats and executive agencies. More and more, legislators have passed vague, feel-good laws and then task unelected officials to write the rules and regulations to enforce the legislation. When agencies go overboard and stuff laws with onerous regulations designed to benefit bureaucrats, legislators typically absolve themselves. They then assail regulators for going beyond what the lawmakers originally intended. But they rarely repeal laws or cut regulations to correct the problem.
It’s time Tennessee lawmakers regain their authority to legislate as delegated in the Tennessee Constitution, rather than allowing unelected bureaucrats to institute rules that limit freedom and undermine prosperity.
Like most states, Tennessee’s economy is being crippled by over-regulation. The REINS Act will counteract this threat and restore individual freedom and economic vitality to the Volunteer State. Of course, some regulations are necessary to protect the environment and prevent health risks, but many provide no or minimal measurable benefits while imposing huge costs. In fact, most rules are designed simply to expand the budgets and power of bureaucrats and lapse into “make work programs” that create and safeguard employment for agency staff.
Regulations often limit consumer choice and buying power by raising the prices of goods and services. Regulations hurt businesses as well: The average U.S. business spends $9,991 per employee each year to comply with regulations. For small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the total exceeds $11,724 per worker. Manufacturers pay on average $19,564 per employee each year for federal regulations alone, not including the added costs from state regulations, a September 2014 study by the National Association of Manufacturers found. Small manufacturers have been hit particularly hard, facing the equivalent of $34,671 in federal regulatory costs for each employee.
Since 1980, the U.S. economy has been slowed on average by 0.8 percent per year because of the cumulative effects of regulation, according to a 2016 study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. If the regulatory burden placed on the economy had been held constant at levels observed in 1980, the U.S. economy would have been about 25 percent larger than it was in 2012, Mercatus experts estimate.
Unfortunately, a national REINS Act remains unlikely because Senate Democrats continue to filibuster a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Despite the lack of movement at the federal level, states are forging ahead with the difficult but critical task of taking authority back from unelected and largely unaccountable bureaucrats. For instance, Wisconsin in 2017 became the first state to pass REINS legislation. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) supported the law even though it prevents executive agencies from imposing significant rules without the state legislature’s consent.
Similar to the Wisconsin model, Daniel’s proposal requires regulatory agencies to submit an economic impact analysis for all rules being considered to the government operations committees of the state’s Senate and House of Representatives. If the analysis determines the rule creates more than $3 million in implementation and compliance costs over a three-year period, the agency would not be allowed to implement the rule without the approval of the legislature or lowering the proposed impact of the rule. The legislature could also request information on how the agency conducted its analysis or complete its own additional independent analysis.
The bill exempts certain types of emergency rules and those developed for “post-secondary and higher education” institutions from REINS Act protocols and purview.
The Tennessee REINS Act would ensure rules and regulations in the Volunteer State are necessary and justified, not tedious and burdensome. The REINS Act would not prevent agencies from making new regulations, but it would ensure new rules that impose major economic impacts face due scrutiny by elected officials and help restore government accountability by preventing legislators from shifting their responsibilities to executive branch agencies.
The time for serious regulatory reform in Tennessee has finally come. Citizens shouldn’t let this important opportunity go to waste.