We have a lot of laws in this state. But the government also has a lot of rules that Floridians have to obey.
These rules cover everything from barbers to electricians, prisons to aqueducts, taxicabs to fish. Every regulated profession has its own big passel.
Here is how big this is:
• More than 70 state agencies have the power under the law to write such rules.
• There are more than 70,000 rules on the books today, taking up 17,000 pages.
• In recent years, typically, the state has proposed 2,000 to 3,000 new rules a year.
The rules even have their own website:
Why bring this up now? Because something very big, but little publicized, is about to change.
This week, when our newly elected Legislature goes to Tallahassee to organize itself, it will repass a law — overriding a veto of Gov. Charlie Crist — that gives the Legislature the final say over rules.
In constitutional terms, our legislative branch is taking back some of the power it had "loaned" to the executive branch to write rules.
In political terms, it also means that our new Legislature is putting the administration of our new governor on a shorter leash.
• • •
In the spring the Legislature passed House Bill 1565, declaring that many rules proposed by the executive branch can't take effect until the Legislature approves them.
The law covered any proposed rule that has an "adverse impact" on small business in Florida or that increases regulatory costs.
The agency making the rule had to consider its impact on:
• Private-sector job creation.
• The ability of Florida businesses to compete against business in other states.
• Productivity and innovation.
The bill also made it easier for any party affected by a proposed rule to suggest an alternative to the government, which had to consider it.
The bill passed unanimously, 113-0 in the House and 36-0 in the Senate.
Every Democrat and every Republican agreed. This is a tug-of-war between branches of the government, not between political parties.
When the governor vetoed the bill, he charged that "nearly every rule" would have to wait for the Legislature's approval, increasing costs, creating red tape and hurting the economy.
What's more, Crist wrote, the bill "encroaches on the principle of separation of powers" between the executive and legislative branches.
So Crist won the first round. But immediately after last week's election, once the Legislature gained a "veto-proof" Republican majority, its leaders announced they would override several of Crist's vetoes in this week's session. HB 1565 is on the list.
• • •
As usual, you can put a good spin or a bad spin on it.
From a business perspective, this is a great law. The government can't just ram through any new rule it pleases. If it hurts business, the government has to say so. It has to consider the alternatives.
The Legislature, not bureaucrats, has the final say.
On the other hand, the law makes it a lot harder for the government to, say, regulate polluters and protect the environment or consumers. Just about any industry that the government tries to regulate can hold up the works and take its case to the Legislature.
Still, I think the Legislature is within its rights.
Crist argued that the law "encroaches on the principle of separation of powers." But it is the Legislature's power in the first place.
The only reason the executive branch can write rules is because there's a law saying so. The Legislature can change that as it sees fit.
Maybe this is a good idea or a bad idea, but it does not matter whether the governor likes it — only the voters who elect the Legislature.