After the surprise of Senate Bill 10, the GOP-led General Assembly has returned to a regulatory reform agenda many pundits had predicted: adding sunset provisions to regulatory rules.
What’s most significant is that HB 74 sets sunset provisions for most administrative rules in North Carolina, changing the default for their continuance. “Permanent rules” will no longer be permanent; they will “sunset” after 10 years unless re-adopted. Re-adoption promises to be laborious—to earn re-authorization, rules will have to appear again in the North Carolina Register, accept comments and possibly hold a public hearing.
“For every rule, there’s someone who has to live with it,” said sponsor Tom Murry (R-Wake) in explaining the bill, according to WRAL. “Many of [the rules] haven’t had proper sunsetting or sunshine in many years.”
The bill affects all rules subject to North Carolina’s Administrative Procedures Act (a knock-off of the federal version that was enacted almost 30 years before North Carolina’s was passed in 1974—of note for understanding this bill, both APAs spell out the procedural requirements for rule-making, including proscriptions regarding notice, comment, and public hearings). HB 74 mandates a massive review process, overseen by the Rules Review Commission. By the end of 2016, all rules for Health and Human Services that are not re-adopted will expire. By the end of 2017, the same will apply for all the rules regarding the Environment and Natural Resources. The next year will be the year for reviewing the rules of the occupational licensing boards and commissions, and all other rules must be reviewed by the end of 2019, or else they will be automatically repealed. After that, every bill on the books will need to be re-approved every 10 years, or else it will be magically pruned from the regulatory vine.
Adding sunset provisions to legislation and rules is not new—the sunset provisions in the Bush tax cuts precipitated the fiscal cliff stare-off in Washington—and I am curious what empirical studies of their effects suggest.
The theory of the four Republicans introducing the bill seems to be that the mechanism will sweep away obsolete rules, making for a cleaner regulatory environment. The necessary ones will remain, and perhaps even be easier to follow and enforce without all the clutter. Every ten years, a new generation of commissioners will have the opportunity to update the work of the past.
Yet with what WRAL quotes as 23,000 affected rules on the books, it could also conceivably clutter an already confusing rule-making process, bulking up the North Carolina Register even further and making the system even more opaque to the average state business or resident. And it’s not just the public that might be overwhelmed—agencies and commissions could find their attention spread thin as they churn through hundreds of re-adopted rules.