Jerry Kopel


It gets dumb and dumber.

The l996 legislature passed HB 1159 by Rep. Vickie Agler and Sen. Bill Schroeder killing the Sunrise-Sunset Committee. It would not have passed without the approval of Senate President Tom Norton, who will soon discover how shoddy are the goods sold to him by Sen. Schroeder.

The Sunrise-Sunset Committee, from 1985 through 1996 had two tasks. It acted as a Sunset screening process on changes sought in licensing laws by the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA). It also screened Sunrise applications from occupational groups and their lobbyists who were seeking licensing for each occupation.

The six-member committee acted as a barrier, turning down almost all Sunrise requests. This saved the other 94 legislators from having to deal with the over-regulation frenzy caused by insurance companies who only pay for services performed by someone licensed with the state.

HB 1159 will go into effect on the governor's signature which will be no later than early June. The bill changes the date for applications for new licensing from Dec.15th under present law to July 1st.

Now here is one of the "dumb and dumber" parts of HB 1159. Under the "Sunrise" part of the law, the bill states: "The General Assembly shall not consider the regulation of more than five occupations or professions in any one session of the General Assembly".

There are PRESENTLY six applications which were submitted by Dec.15th seeking licensing. They are from (1) Building Contractors, including subcontractors and specialty contractors (2) Naturopathic Physicians (3) More stringent regulation of private adoption agencies (4) Dispensing Opticians (5) Occupational Therapists, and (6) Sign Language Interpreters. In addition, a State Athletic Commission application which missed the Dec.15th deadline, will no doubt be introduced on behalf of "friends of boxing".

If there are six or ten or twenty applications filed by any July 1st deadline, how do you decide which five are considered? The first five applied for? The first five carried by Republicans? What if six are introduced, three in the House and three in the Senate? Who blinks first, Sen. Tom Norton or Rep. Chuck Berry? What if the House is Republican and the Senate Democratic? It may happen soon.

Under HB 1159, the DORA report on the Sunrise application goes to the APPLICANT (and not to the legislature) no later than Oct. 15th. The applicant isn't going to care whether DORA says "yes" or "no" to licensing. The applicant's lobbyist is going to get his or her bill into the "system" as soon as possible.

Only after the bill has been assigned to a committee of reference will DORA know which committee to get its Sunrise report to before the hearing. Even if the report is less than twenty pages, I can guarantee the reader that no more than one to zero members on that committee will read the report prior to the hearing.

Every applicant for new licensing knows that if they have met the requirements for an application, they can proceed in the next legislative session to try to be "one of the five". From 1985 to the present, 94 legislators did not have to put up with the phone calls, letters and lobbyist pressure on new occupational licensing from May to January that will now be theirs to enjoy.

Also, HB 1159 allows any group that has a report from DORA to get their bill before the legislature in EACH of the two succeeding years, without having to submit a new application. Until HB 1159 passed, THAT privilege was only available to new regulation APPROVED for bill status by the Sunrise-Sunset Committee, which only approved one such bill for the 1996 session. Dumb and dumber.

And now I'll let you in on a dirty little secret. For the past three years, DORA wanted the Sunrise-Sunset Committee killed and DORA employees wrote a large part of the revised HB 1159. When DORA did its review and suggested changes in present laws, the Sunrise-Sunset Committee often changed or disapproved the amendments DORA wanted for a particular agency. The bill that went from the six- member committee to the committee of reference would often be altered from DORA's recommendations.

Under HB 1159, DORA gets more power. It basically drafts the Sunset bill (with a few procedural touches from Legal Services) which bill goes straight to the committee of reference, whose members also get the 50 to 100 page DORA report. How many members of the committee of reference who will have to potentially deal with a hundred or more bills during the legislative session will bother to read the DORA report? My guess is one to zero.

Sunset hearings under HB 1159 will be held in 1996 by committees of reference prior to the 1997 session, but the 1998 legislature will get the bills after the session starts in January.

So who benefits from all this? First, DORA, because it can draft the bill without legislative interference. Second, the lobbyists who have just been given a green light to seek as many occupational licensing laws as there is money to be paid to them. The "five bill" limit will be stricken in future amendments to HB 1159 as unworkable as pointed out in this column, and the legislature will face a flood of new licensing laws, just as it did before 1985.

And of course the size of government will increase, with lots more FTEs for DORA. Dumb and dumber.


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Statesman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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