Imagine if government rules had an expiration date.
What if, each decade, every state law, regulation, or administrative rule ended by default unless lawmakers took specific action to keep it on the books?
Idaho just did that — but not on purpose.
The Idaho Legislature’s inaction in April allowed more than 8,000 pages of administrative rules to expire.
Tensions were high as the Legislature concluded its business, and animosity between the House and Senate led to the demise of multiple consequential bills. One of those bills was the “drop dead” bill, the nickname for the bill reauthorizing the rules.
Idaho is the only state where the legislature must affirmatively reauthorize all administrative rules every year. At the conclusion of the legislative session each year, both chambers have quietly passed the drop-dead bill.
For years, it has been common consensus that if the thousands of pages of rules were set to expire at 11:59 p.m. June 30, as the statute outlines, the state might devolve into a state of anarchy.
But the Legislature didn’t pass that bill this year, and it doesn’t look like anarchy is around the corner.
Gov. Brad Little and his staff took the initiative to identify many of the rules that should automatically face the chopping block.
All the rest were to go through the public process as new temporary rules, giving anyone the opportunity to participate in a 21-day public comment period.
Executive branch agencies were required to open their doors to the public and listen to their comments and concerns about any state rule. The legislature will review each rule to decide whether to re-approve it come January.
This process works directly in tandem with the Republican governor’s push to reduce government meddling. Little’s executive order early this year—dubbed the Red Tape Reduction Act—directed agencies to cut two regulations for every new one implemented.
Although state agencies previously were directed to seek out regulations they might cut, each agency now has the responsibility to defend the regulations it wants to keep. Rather than seeking out arguments for why an outdated rule must be repealed, agencies must come up with arguments for why these rules should remain.
Idaho is setting an ideal standard here.
If our state could cut dozens of administrative rules in less than a month, what could other states do with even more time?
The rules facing the chopping block in Idaho are those that are clearly, even laughably, outdated. There’s no reason other state governments, or even the federal government, couldn’t follow suit.
And it’s not just inconsequential matters that are regulated and restricted by administrative bloat. Yes, Idaho has ridiculous rules that govern toy duck races and the paper used for bingo cards. But administrative rules also were used to adopt Common Core as state policy, to establish the parameters and benefits for welfare programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, and to adopt countless other major policies.
Often, when officials sneak bad policies into state rules, they slide into the background and the public forgets they’re there.
Putting all rules on a regular reset would bring them back into the public discourse. If policymakers in each state had to defend reauthorization of their rules every five or 10 years, the most unpopular, outdated, and burdensome ones no doubt would face public scrutiny and likely get repealed.
In Idaho, a Great Depression-era state law outlawing below-cost sales—such as Black Friday deals or entry-pricing that Uber, Doordash, and other start-ups use to build customer loyalty—wasn’t repealed until 2018.
For nearly a century, it was easier to leave the law on the books and forget about it than to go through the process of public hearings to repeal it, even though the rule obviously was harmful.
Certainly, thousands of such rules and laws across the nation are similarly ripe for repeal. A 10-year regulatory reset could make that happen.
Idaho’s recent foray down this path provides an example for other states. Although this came about accidentally, it probably will be nothing but a positive for Idahoans.
With an established process and proper planning, any state could do the same. Not only would this foster a modern and fresh government system, it would promote public participation in government by giving citizens regular intervals to speak up with reasoned arguments for what they want.
Our republic certainly could use more of that..