Gov. Norm Bangerter threatened earlier to veto bills that would limit the administration's rule-making powers. Now that the Legislature has passed those bills, he should carry out that threat.
A natural tension almost always exists between the governor and the Legislature over the exercise of their separate government powers, even when the two branches are controlled by the same party. However, that tension has reached new levels this year.Lawmakers approved the bills by large margins, claiming that the executive branch has gradually encroached on legislative powers. The governor uses the same argument, saying the measures would trespass on his constitutional authority.
The bills, including one massive 600-page document, would limit the ability of state agencies to enact rules, would force departments to examine and reauthorize all rules, and would require an annual screening of rules by the Legislature.
In addition, the bills would apply an automatic expiration date to all administrative rules.
Bangerter opposes the bills, saying they would restrict the administration's ability to make policy and enforce the law and would clog the rule-making process to the point where it would be ineffective.
The governor wants rule-making to be as flexible as possible so that lower-level state officials can be free to make decisions based on their best judgment instead of kicking everything to a higher authority because the rules are so rigid.
That makes good sense. If all rules must have legislative approval year after year, officials would hesitate to be flexible in applying or interpreting those rules for fear of reaping the Legislature's wrath.
Yet an obviously wrong stance in a given circumstance can be frustrating when the only justification is, "It's the rule."
The two measures were passed easily by the House in a veto-proof vote, but in the Senate, the bill to trim rule-making powers received only 18 votes, two short of overriding a veto. The bill causing all rules to expire a year after they were created, unless reauthorized by the Legislature, obtained 20 votes.
Clearly, there are times when bureaucratic rule makers go too far or flout legislative intent, but those situations can usually be worked out on an individual basis. And there is always an appeals process, either to higher administrative authority or the courts.
In any case, the Legislature already has the power to alter or abolish administrative rules - without getting so heavily involved every year with every single rule.
Tying down the administration and giving it even less latitude in rule making is too drastic an action for the size of the problem. It would only cause a time-consuming, bureaucratic nightmare.