Research note: a case study of success of the REINS act in state regulatory reform

Research note: a case study of success of the REINS act in state regulatory reform

First introduced in 2009 and subsequently passed by the US House of Representatives in 2023, the REINS Act, formally known as the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, represents a legislative endeavor to augment Congressional oversight concerning federal regulations with substantial economic ramifications. Specifically, it aims to empower Congress to assert greater control over regulations anticipated to impose significant economic burdens, defined as those exceeding $100 million, precipitating consumer price escalations, or eliciting adverse economic consequences.

When looking at Nebraska’s regulatory system, a state-level REINS Act seems like a promising option to provide the unicameral with a “check” to the executive branch’s control of both regulation and its respective review processes. The current process gives the attorney general power to review the constitutionality of proposed rules, and the governor has final authority to determine if adequate notice of the rule was provided to the public and if reasonable opportunity for public comment was provided. No rule can become effective without the governor’s approval. The unicameral is only provided with the ability to comment during the public hearing period, to which the agency is required to respond. No other oversight powers are granted. The REINS Act would force legislators to make public statements on rules and regulations, which are typically devoid of scrutiny as agency officials skirt below the public eye. While constitutional questions arise due to legislative bodies previously charging agencies to act, it is difficult to deny that more legislative oversight stands against constitutional principles. 

Florida and Wisconsin became the first two states to embark on the experiment of a REINs-style bill at the state level. Wisconsin’s legislature has a Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules that can object to or influence the regulation. Similarly, Florida’s “JAPC” notifies the agency if there is an objection. The rule is withdrawn if the agency fails to respond within the specified time. This encourages collaboration on rules between the branches. Both bills also reworked other aspects of the regulatory review process. In 2017, Wisconsin established systems allowing greater public input during an agency’s administrative rule-writing process. Florida’s version requires agencies to prepare statements of regulatory costs (SERCs) and economic analyses for certain proposed rules, amended rules, and rule repeals. It also allows for disproportionately affected parties to submit regulatory alternatives over an extended time frame. These experiments continually prove to be worthwhile and effective.

 With these examples in mind, Nebraska could obviously benefit from legislative oversight as the process currently doesn’t even solicit input, much less outline specific committees dedicated to reviewing policy proposals with prohibitive authority. Importantly, a REINs-style reevaluation could also allow the legislature to find unique ways to increase public involvement, as seen in Wisconsin, or restructure the economic impact statements, as seen in Florida. 



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