STATE NEWS

Retiring GOP state rep blasts Abbott's move to expand power over agencies

In a June 22 letter, Abbott's office directed agencies to run rules by him before publishing them. In a letter this week, state Rep. Byron Cook questioned the governor's authority to do that.

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More than a month after Gov. Greg Abbott directed state agencies to submit proposed new rules to his office before publishing them, a retiring Republican lawmaker has called out the policy as a potentially unconstitutional power grab.

“It is important to underscore that nothing in our state’s constitution or statutes gives the Office of the Governor the power to veto or delay the proposal of a rule, whether by act or omission,” wrote state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana, this week.

In a letter dated June 22, Luis Saenz, Abbott’s chief of staff, told agency heads that the governor’s office would review new policies before they are officially made available for public comment in the Texas Register. The letter did not explicitly say whether the governor would suggest or demand changes to those proposals but directed agency officials to provide the draft rule as well as its expected impact on local employment and the economy.

That marked a significant expansion of Abbott’s executive power in a state with a comparatively weak governorship. Abbott has the power to appoint the members of various state boards, but he does not have the power to fire them.

Abbott’s office defended the move as falling within the governor’s “constitutional authority.”

“As the chief executive of the state, Governor Abbott has a constitutional duty to faithfully execute the law and ensure that all state agencies under his direction approach the regulatory process in adherence with these laws as written and passed by the legislature,” spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said.

Ron Beal, an administrative law professor at Baylor University, said Abbott’s letter does not present a legal violation — but it may lead to an unprecedented power grab.

“If the governor wants the agencies to send their proposed rules to him before they commence notice and comment rulemaking, there is no law preventing the agencies from doing so,” Beal told the Tribune last month. “If the governor replies that they cannot adopt such a rule or if he says they have to modify it, the agency can do what he says ... but of course, they can ignore his order and proceed with rulemaking.”

Disclosure: Baylor University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/08/14/byron-cook-texas-governor-abbott-agency-rule-making-power-grab/.

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