Administrative regulations play big roles in our life

Apr 20 2012 - 8:31pm

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If you are as old as I am, you remember a Saturday morning short cartoon "I'm Just a Bill" in the "School House Rock" series.

If you are younger, do an Internet search for "I'm Just a Bill," and you can watch it on YouTube or Vimeo this Saturday morning. Even now, the tune sticks in my head, but the cartoon was also great at explaining the tortured path a bill must go through to become a law.

So, now a riddle: How do you pass a law without starting out as a bill? The answer is, you pass a law that delegates legislative authority to someone else, usually an administrative agency. The result is what many call our fourth branch of government -- the Administrative Branch. These are the government agencies that form the nebulous government bureaucracy.

One big difference between government agencies and regulations and our elected government is that the people running the agencies are lifelong employees of the government. The checks-and-balance system among the legislative, judicial and executive branches doesn't exist with government agencies. Employees aren't subject to election pressures or public scrutiny of their behavior. Agencies create their own rules and have their own judges and their own enforcement arm.

The recent scandal over the General Services Administration's lavish spending for a conference in Las Vegas has centered on Jeff Neely, a 34-year employee who began working in the GSA during the Jimmy Carter administration. In a nice irony, one reason Neely was pleading the Fifth Amendment in his testimony before Congress was that some of the laws he may run afoul of are the GSA regulations regarding government expenditures.

The GSA sets up all the rules for how federal agencies conduct business. (It says so on its website, http://www.gsa.gov/portal/content/104647.)

Utah has two sets of laws: The Utah Code that contains the laws passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor, and the Utah Administrative Code that contains rules and regulations passed by various government agencies. The two codes are about the same size.

The same thing happens on the federal level to an even larger extent -- think EPA, FCC, IRS and all of those other acronyms. I'm pretty certain the EPA regulations dwarf the Utah Code and the Utah Administrative Code combined.

Most lawyers have an uneasy relationship with administrative regulations. In order for a proposed regulation to become an enforceable rule, a certain process must be followed, but following that process is a daunting task. It would be literally impossible to keep up with even the smallest number of regulatory changes. Both the U.S. at www.regulations.gov and Utah at www.rules.utah.gov have websites that inform you of pending regulations.

In the last 90 days, 6,509 regulations were proposed on the federal level. On the first and 15th of each month, Utah publishes a bulletin of proposed regulatory changes. The bulletin for April 15, 2012, runs 148 pages.

Bureaucracy is probably here to stay. Feel free to try to understand the rules that affect you and comment when appropriate, but I doubt you will find a new "School House Rock" video for "I'm Just a Proposed Regulation Awaiting Public Comment."

E. Kent Winward is an Ogden attorney. He can be reached at 801-392-8200 or creditcorrection@gmail.com.

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