House panel passes bill adding oversight to state agencies

State government agencies could face greater scrutiny when proposing new regulations under a measure an Indiana House committee approved Tuesday.

House government reform committee members voted 7-4 to advance the proposal, which would add another layer of oversight to the policy-making process in Indiana.

State executive agencies are currently required to submit new policy proposals to the attorney general's office. If approved, they are then signed by Gov. Mike Pence. The bill would instead, require agencies to first submit proposals to an office within the Legislative Services Agency for review. The office would then alert the Attorney General's office if any suggested policy falls outside of an agency's legal limit.

"It gives us a red flag up front, as opposed to correcting things after the fact," said Rep. David Wolkins, R-Warsaw, who is sponsoring the bill.

The additional "thin layer of government" would keep agencies from imposing unnecessary and expensive regulations, he said.

Critics of the bill called it unnecessary, since Indiana law already has nine separate legal provisions that require regulators to develop responsible, science-based, statutorily-constrained, and cost-effective policies. The review office also has fairly minimal authority and won't prevent an agency's proposal from moving forward.

Jesse Kharbanda, from the Hoosier Environmental Council, said he's concerned that the oversight is just "a new layer of bureaucracy" and "government red tape" on the taxpayer's dime. According to the bill's fiscal note, the new review agency will cost about $500,000 a year to operate.

The bill would also stop new policies from going beyond state and federal requirements, sparking criticism from environmentalists who said it would prevent regulators from tailoring federal laws to fit Indiana's circumstances.

Wolkins said the bill provides some flexibility for this. Agencies would still be able to go beyond federal law if the regulation specifically allows state discretion, but Kharbanda said the flexibility is more of a discrepancy and could be open to misinterpretation.

The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

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