Governor Tom Wolf has vetoed a bill passed by the Republican-controlled legislature this week that attempted to give lawmakers more influence over regulations proposed by state agencies.
“It overreaches into executive authority,” Wolf said in veto message. “This bill has the potential to grind the regulatory review process to a halt.”
SB 562 amended Pennsylvania’s Regulatory Review Act of 1982, creating more legislative oversight of and involvement with the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC)– a five member body comprised of political appointees who review all new regulations.
Environmental groups argued the bill was designed to block important public health and safety standards– although it would have affected all state regulations, not just environmental rules.
IRRC currently has three appointees from Democrats and two from Republicans. In April, the commission voted along political lines to approve controversial new regulations for oil and gas drilling over the objections of the GOP-led standing committees in the state House and Senate. SB 562 gives standing committees more power to delay IRRC votes.
Opponents say the measure erodes the separation of powers between the legislature and executive-led state agencies.
“The ability of a standing committee, or a handful of legislators who are chairs of committees, to hold up a rulemaking they don’t like is an abuse of power,” says Joanne Kilgour, who heads the state chapter of the Sierra Club.
Sen. John Gordner (R- Columbia) is the bill’s prime sponsor and says that was not the intent.
“When [this bill] first passed the Senate, it passed unanimously,” he says. “Unfortunately, I believe some environmental groups are trying to find something there that was not intended.”
He adds the measure, which was introduced in March 2015, was also not a reaction to the recent controversy around the drilling rules.
Gordner says he wants to ensure committee chairs share information about proposed regulations with rank and file members, because he doesn’t believe that happens often enough. The measure would also preclude an agency from pushing through regulations during a legislative recess, which he’s seen both parties do.
“There are a certain number of calendar days you have to respond to [the regulations],” says Gordner. “If the General Assembly is not in session, it’s a nice, neat way to avoid legislative reaction.”