House fails to override Lynch rules veto

Janeen Dalrymple, a state representative from Salem, had thought the state Legislature had killed a requirement that required small businesses to get a food-handling certificate – until she tried to open a small bakery and was told that the same requirement “word for word” was passed through administrative rules.

Dalrymple told her story on the House floor Nov. 16 while passionately defending a bill that would allow legislative policy committees to weigh in on such rules to make sure administrative agencies follow the intent of the Legislature, and not impose additional burdens on small businesses that were never voted on.

Currently only the Joint Legislative Rules Committee examines regulations. Besides being overwhelmed, Dalrymple said, a “lot of hanky panky” goes on in the rulemaking process by lobbyists and agency officials.

Gov. John Lynch had vetoed the bill, arguing that requiring that policy committees be involved would make the process more cumbersome. Dalrymple was urging lawmakers to override that veto. The override motion failed, but the tally was surprisingly close, failing by 21 votes to achieve the necessary two-thirds margin, especially considering that lawmakers were called there to deal with an unrelated issue — funding emergency assistance for low-income people having trouble paying their high heating bills.

One of the arguments to sustain the veto was that there was another bill in the works to reform the rules process. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Richard “Stretch” Kennedy, R-Contoocook, would give the rules committee veto power over rules that don’t conform to the law. Currently, all the panel can do is alert the attorney general or recommend legislation to clarify the law.

“That would make it simpler,” said Kennedy. “The way things are now, someone sits in a bathrobe and writes up rules that have the force of law. By whose authority? That should be up to the legislature.” – BOB SANDERS

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