Wednesday, July 12, 2017

CONYERS: Statement for the Markup of H.R. 469, the “Sunshine for Regulations and Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2017”

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers, Jr.
H.R. 469, the “Sunshine for Regulations and Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2017,” has a simple goal:  to discourage the use of settlement agreements and consent decrees.

Here are just a few reasons why this is problematic.

To begin with, this bill, by delaying regulatory protections, jeopardizes public health and safety.  This explains why the Administration issued a veto threat against a very similar version included in legislation considered last Congress. 

It also explains why a broad consortium of more than 150 organizations strenuously oppose this bill. 

These organizations include the National Resources Defense Council, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, the Sierra Club, and EarthJustice, among other groups.

Simply put, this bill could be used to prevent critical, life-saving federal regulatory actions from being implemented.

For example, the bill gives opponents of regulation multiple opportunities to stifle agency regulatory actions by allowing essentially any third party who is affected by such actions to:
                     intervene, subject to rebuttal;
                     participate in settlement negotiations; and
                     submit public comments about a proposed consent decree or settlement agreement that agencies would then be required to respond to.

In the case of consent decrees concerning a rulemaking, an agency would be forced to go through two public comment periods:  one for the consent decree and one for the rulemaking that results from the consent decree, doubling the agency’s effort.

Take, for example, a consent decree resolving a dispute under the Clean Air Act.  The bill would allow any private party whose rights are affected by such decree a right to intervene, which could conceivably include anyone who breathes air. 

Like nearly all of the anti-regulatory bills we have considered to date over the last three Congresses, H.R. 469 piles on unnecessary procedural requirements for agencies and courts.

Another concern is that this bill threatens to undermine a critical tool that Americans use to guarantee their Congressionally-mandated protections, including civil rights laws. 

By reducing costly and time-consuming litigation, consent decrees and settlement agreements benefit both plaintiffs and defendants. 

They ensure that federal protections are enforced, while giving state and local governments flexibility as to how they meet their federal obligations.

Consent decrees, in particular, have been instrumental in enforcing various civil rights statutes in a wide variety cases, ranging from those involving voting rights -- to reform of mental health institutions -- to law enforcement misconduct.  Indeed, they are at the heart of civil rights enforcement.
Because of H.R. 469’s a chilling effect on the use of consent decrees and settlement agreements, civil rights enforcement will be undermined. 

Given this concern, I intend to offer an amendment addressing at least this one shortcoming of the bill.

Finally, H.R. 469 will inevitably generate more litigation that will result in millions of dollars of additional transactional costs, all of which will be borne by the American taxpayer. 

For example, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, in its analysis of the bill’s predecessor from the last Congress, concluded the measure would impose millions of dollars in additional costs, most of which would be “incurred because litigation involving consent decrees and settlement agreements would probably take longer under the bill and agencies would face additional administrative requirements.”
For all of these reasons, I must accordingly oppose H.R. 469 and I yield back the balance of my time.

Voting is beautiful, be beautiful ~ vote.©

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