House votes to create new requirements for writing regulations

House votes to create new requirements for writing regulations
© Greg Nash

The House on Thursday passed legislation aimed at increasing transparency in the regulatory process.

The Regulatory Integrity Act, backed by Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.), requires federal agencies to shed light on what happens behind the scenes when they are crafting new rules. The measure also prohibits regulators from drumming up public support for those rules.

The House voted 246-176 to pass the bill, with 14 Democrats crossing party lines to support the measure, and one Republican opposing it.

“The public comment period is an essential part of upholding our Democratic values, because it ensures that Americans will have their voices heard in the federal government’s regulatory process,” Walberg said Thursday on the floor. “Agencies must take the comment period seriously.”

Under the Regulatory Integrity Act, federal agencies would be required to publish online a list of regulations they are writing, a description of those rules, the status, and timeframe for when the agency started working on and expects to complete each rule.

Republicans say those requirements will force federal agencies to be more transparent.

The legislation also prohibits federal agencies from advocating for their regulations and “appealing to the public” to support these proposed rules.

Instead, the bill directs regulators to rely on public feedback to shape their rules.

To ensure this happens, federal agencies would be required to publish a list of their “public communications” about regulations, the type of communication, date, audience and a copy of what was said.

Federal agencies must “keep to the facts” and “speak about regulations in a neutral, unbiased tone,” Walberg said.

“People need confidence that federal agencies — regardless of whether it is a Republican or Democratic administration — are open to their insights and constructive criticism,” he said.

But Democrats raised concerns that this provision would violate the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech, because it prohibits agencies from promoting their regulations.

Rep. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeNFL player who kneeled for national anthem tackles Capitol Hill 'externship' Former Comey aide grilled by House panel for over seven hours Judiciary advances 17 judicial nominees MORE (D-Texas) suggested the rule would “uncertainty and confusion” within federal agencies “as to what public communications are permissible, and risks discouraging agencies from keeping the public apprised of the important work they do on its behalf.”

The Regulatory Integrity Act passed the House, but Senate Democrats could block the measure before it gets to President Trump.