Bill allows lawmakers to intervene in state agency rulemaking



A bill passed by a divided Pennsylvania House on Tuesday would give legislative committees new opportunities to intervene as state agencies develop regulations for everything from gas drilling to gambling.

Opponents of the measure, including House Democrats and Gov. Tom Wolf, say it could cause the state’s already complicated rule-making process to grind to a halt.

The chamber passed House Bill 965 with a vote of 113-84 and sent it to the Senate for concurrence. Five Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill, and one Democrat joined Republicans in supporting it. The Senate passed a companion bill unanimously this spring, but the House version varies slightly.

Rep. Robert Godshall, R-Montgomery, who sponsored the bill, said it is intended to give legislative standing committees enough time to fully review regulations to make sure they match the objectives of state laws before an independent regulatory review commission votes on them. Current law allows legislative committees to review or disapprove proposals and to bring the proposals up for a vote in the Legislature after the independent commission has voted on them.

“If we disagree that the intent was changed in the rule-making process, it gives us time to act,” Mr. Godshall said on the House floor Tuesday.

But opponents, including an array of state and national environmental groups, argue the bill gives legislative committees the power to stall proposed regulations for months when the General Assembly is not in session and, if the committees’ objections are renewed, to delay the process indefinitely. That new power could disrupt proposed rules for things like oil and gas operations, air and water quality and energy use, the environmental groups said.

In a statement, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, said the legislation is “a dangerous abuse of power that has no place in the checks and balance system that separates us from dictatorships.”

Mr. Wolf’s spokesman Jeffrey Sheridan said the administration opposes the bill and has spoken to legislators about its opposition.

Laura Legere: llegere@post-gazette.com.

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