The regulatory process: The key to successful policy implementation
CALBO has focused its direct advocacy efforts with state legislators on a message: Do not legislate codes, regulate
I’ve always enjoyed Dr. Matthew Wheeler’s writing style: interesting, relatable and engaging. When I heard he wrote an article for the California Building Standards Commission newsletter about progress in communicating to legislators “Do not legislate codes, regulate,” I was thrilled. Dr. Wheeler brings this message to life with his article. Take a read for yourself and if you agree, please share among your circles to broadcast the message louder.
– Susan Dowty, Government Relations Manager, International Code Council
The legislative “bill introduction” deadline has just passed. This year, February 18 marked the last day for all state legislators to propose new initiatives for the state. In a term-limited environment, legislators take this opportunity to change policy seriously realizing that their time to impact policy is narrow.
For organizations like California Building Officials (CALBO), our work is cut out for us. The state affords us 30 days to review all legislative proposals, or bills, prior to the state legislature’s ability to act. In theory, this gives us all an opportunity to see what has been proposed, examine its impact upon our constituency, and prepare an appropriate response. This year is no different and CALBO has gone to work.
In the decade preceding the pandemic in an age of in-person meetings, CALBO focused our direct advocacy efforts with state legislators on a message; Do not legislate codes, regulate. This simple message was rife with value to code officials, as it was meant to be an offensive, preventative strategy against narrow and prescriptive legislation. Our efforts, as those administering the codes, were to assist in areas where we are most productive and aid those who may have never been on the front line of enforcement. When bills prescribe the way we, as code officials, must enact and enforce a new policy – our hands are tied. Oftentimes, those on the front line of code enforcement can find themselves at odds with the very laws they are required and seek to enforce. Strong legislation enables us, as local code officials, to work directly with the regulatory agencies on the proverbial “in’s and out’s” of code development.
We already know the good work that the California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) completes as part of its functionality as a division of “interagency support.” Coordinating the efforts of applicable state agencies, ensuring its accuracy and compliance with existing statutes are all a part of the CBSC and its charge. Code officials live by the regulatory efforts of the CBSC and the triennial and intervening code adoption cycles as they elevate public safety through the adoption of the most contemporary, technologically-advanced and streamlined codes. The proverbial “bible” that code officials follow when conducting their jurisdictional work is to follow the applicable and current editions of the California building, fire, residential, plumbing, mechanical and electrical codes (to name a few).
This year, many bills direct the CBSC, alongside other regulatory rulemaking state agencies, to take action in some way, shape or form under the existing code adoption and regulatory process. To say that we feel validated is an understatement — as it will amount to stronger, holistic building and life safety provisions in the golden state. Although this is by no means an endorsement of any proposed policies, it feels refreshing to witness a demonstrated understanding on the part of the legislature that policy is best implemented through inclusive regulatory channels.
California lawmakers are progressive. They have some good ideas, and our state prides itself on being the leader in thoughtful, socially-developed public policy. As Californians, we live by the credo that what happens in the golden state will spread throughout the nation like wildfire. With that, we still need to be mindful that a great idea is simply a notion unless it is appropriately implemented and becomes enforceable. CALBO is a partner to progressive lawmakers. More often than not when we take an Oppose position on a measure, it is due to the fact that it is not enforceable or lacks the means to implement. By directing an agency to take action on a policy, it takes the opinion out of the policy and enables the enforcement community to implement. A win-win for legislators and regulators alike.
Today, we all strive for streamlined processes and procedures. Efficiency has become a good word that is not limited to bottom-line driven businesses and the private sector. The public sector encourages holistic models that will look at all elements of a project, including legislative intent. When lawmakers come to the realization that CALBO and our code official members are partners in enforcement, not foes in policy, we have reached a new collaborative benchmark that benefits us all. 2022 is looking up, and we’ll take it.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2022 issue of CALCode Quarterly and is reprinted with the permission of the California Building Standards Commission.