Wisconsin Legislature Passes First State REINS Act

Published August 8, 2017

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) says he will sign legislation to prevent Wisconsin’s regulatory agencies from imposing major rules without the consent of the legislature and the state’s chief executive.

With enactment of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, Wisconsin would become the first state to require any major regulation proposed by administrative agencies be approved by the state’s legislature and signed by the governor before it may take effect.

Wisconsin’s Senate approved the REINS Act by a 17 to 14 vote in May, and the state Assembly followed suit on June 16, passing it by a large margin, 62 to 34. Wisconsin has no deadline for the governor to act on a bill after passage by the legislature. Walker voiced support for the bill and said he will sign it.

‘Bold Regulatory Reform’

“Gov. Walker thanks the Legislature for sharing his commitment to bold regulatory reform and looks forward to signing the bill into law,” Walker spokesman Tom Evanson said in a statement after the Assembly’s vote.

Sponsored by state Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee) and state Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg), the legislation mandates any new rule imposing $10 million or more in implementation or compliance costs over a two-year period would have to be approved by the Assembly and signed by the governor before taking effect. If the Assembly or the governor rejects the rule, the regulation must be rewritten or withdrawn.

Under REINS, any agency proposing a regulation hitting the $10 million threshold must request the Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) introduce a bill in the Assembly to authorize the rule, modify it to lower its costs, or withdraw the rule altogether.

Exercising ‘Legislative Oversight’

In making the case for his bill, Neylon emphasized the importance of government transparency and accountability.

“This proposal is not only necessary but also critical to improving the administrative rulemaking process,” Neylon said. “It will bring additional legislative oversight into that process and provide more opportunity for the public to comment on the rules that will impact taxpayers and business owners alike.”

REINS allows JCRAR to request a public hearing during the rulemaking process, even before economic costs are determined. JCRAR is also empowered to request independent review of a proposed regulation’s economic impact.

Additionally, Wisconsin’s REINS requires the state’s Department of Administration to determine the agency’s legal authority to create a proposed new regulation.

Limiting Bureaucrats’ Power

Mathew Glans, a senior policy analyst at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, says REINS is praiseworthy for limiting the power of agency staffers and appointees.

“Wisconsin legislators should be applauded for their passage of the REINS Act,” said Glans. “There is no bill better suited for cutting back on the scope and power of government.

“The REINS Act does not prevent agencies from making new regulations,” Glans said. “Instead, it is designed to ensure any new rules with a major impact on the economy face the scrutiny of elected officials, who are accountable to the voters.”

Jesse Hathaway, a budget and tax research fellow at The Heartland Institute, says REINS is a pioneering reform.

“The passage of REINS is a sterling example of how Wisconsin is leading the nation in protecting taxpayers and small business owners from overregulation and government excess,” Hathaway said. “REINS limits the power of unelected, undemocratic, state bureaucrats, holding them accountable to lawmakers and, therefore, the people.

“More accountability and oversight over the administrative state are unequivocally good for the people,” said Hathaway.

Follow the Leader

Chris Rochester, communications director for the Wisconsin-based John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, says other states and the federal government should follow Wisconsin’s lead in controlling administrative agencies.

“Unelected, faceless bureaucrats at all levels of government have far too much power to enact rules and regulations that affect peoples’ lives and stunt economic growth,” said Rochester. “Other states and federal politicians in Washington, DC should take a cue from Wisconsin and rein in out-of-control bureaucracy.”

On January 5, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a federal version of the REINS Act. A companion bill awaits Senate action.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.


Matthew Glans, “Research & Commentary: Wisconsin Considers State REINS Act,” The Heartland Institute, June 13, 2017: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/research–commentary-wisconsin-considers-state-reins-act