August 26, 2011

New state rules must go through LePage

Critics fear the governor's order will reduce government efficiency and limit the Legislature's power.

By Rebekah Metzler rmetzler@mainetoday.com
MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA - In an effort to "establish a unified, comprehensive rulemaking oversight policy," Gov. Paul LePage has issued an executive order requiring that all agency rules go through his office for approval.

READ LePage's executive order.

The order, issued Wednesday, was criticized by Democrats, who said it would reduce government transparency and efficiency and infringe on the Legislature's constitutional powers.

It replaces similar orders made earlier in LePage's term.

"This was just consolidating all those and just clarifying from this day forward, this is the rulemaking approval process for rules in the LePage administration," said Michael Cianchette, LePage's deputy legal counsel.

Cianchette said the order will ensure that the governor has a chance to look at all of the agency rules and "ensure that everyone is on the same page and moving forward."

"It gives another set of eyeballs on it, because it's sometimes good to bring in someone who's a little more looking at the forest," he said.

Sean Mahoney, vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation of Maine, which lobbies on environmental issues, said he's concerned about the order's potential impact.

The order states that "no proposed state agency rules shall be published for public review and comment until the agency receives the approval of the governor's office that such rulemaking may proceed."

"It seems like the assertion of greater control by the governor's office is being exercised at the expense of the idea of having an efficient and timely process for rulemaking," Mahoney said. "The potential for mischief and the potential lack of transparency could cause more problems than this executive order seems to want to address."

Mahoney said it was the governor's right -- and responsibility -- to review what his agencies are doing.

"But the idea that the rules don't go to public hearing until there's a sign-off from the governor's office is, in and of itself, a little concerning," he said.

Mahoney said he had concerns during the past legislative session about lack of disclosure regarding the origins of some of the governor's proposals. Paired with the new order, Mahoney said he has doubts the public will be properly informed about how LePage will evaluate proposed rules and why decisions are being made.

Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, said he shared those concerns.

"We should be striving to make government more efficient with fewer hoops to jump through in a transparent, open, public process. This jeopardizes those goals," he said.

Goodall said LePage may be overstepping his role as governor.

"It appears the governor is trying to create the ability to decide whether or not a rule will proceed, even if the Legislature has passed a law requiring rulemaking," he said.

But that fear was dismissed by Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry.

"There's nothing that I saw that would suggest that it was somehow trampling on legislative intent or anything of that nature," he said.

"The rulemaking process is under the purview of the executive, so it doesn't strike me as anything that would be out of the ordinary in terms of a chief executive wanting to exercise the rights that he has," Raye said.

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, said the order had the potential to be significant, but it wasn't a new tactic.

"Certainly LePage is not the first chief executive to do something like this, and he won't be the last," Brewer said, adding that one of LePage's heroes -- President Ronald Reagan -- was very effective at expanding and exercising his executive powers while in office.

"It's certainly a way that Gov. LePage is trying to extend his reach, not only throughout the bureaucracy but certainly to bolster his position in relationship to the state Legislature, there's no doubt about that," Brewer said. "The reality is, rulemaking is an incredibly important step in the policymaking process. There's a huge potential here for actual, real-world policy impact."

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

rmetzler@mainetoday.com

 

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