Vote Explanation for H.R. 469 — Sunshine for Regulations and Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2017

When people or organizations file a lawsuit against a government agency, both parties can negotiate a consent decree or settlement agreement as an alternative to going to trial. For decades, and under both Democratic and Republican administrations, this practice has been used to ensure that federal agencies are held accountable to the law.

This week, House Republicans sought to undermine this judicial process through H.R. 469, the Sunshine for Regulations and Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act of 2017. I voted against this legislation, which would impose new requirements that would significantly delay ensuring that statutory deadlines established by Congress are enforced to protect Americans from serious harms such as dirty air and water, unsafe products, and reckless behavior by large financial institutions.

Under H.R. 469, agencies would be required to publish consent decrees or regulatory settlements in the Federal Register and provide a public comment period of 60 days before filing the final agreement with a court. The bill would also make it easier for potentially affected parties — such as industry stakeholders or state and local governments — to intervene in the settlement process.

Proponents of the legislation argue that it is necessary to address collusion among federal agencies and public-interest groups that circumvents standard rule-making procedures. However, there is no evidence that consent decrees and settlements influence the substantive results of new rulemaking.

If Republicans don’t like the process, they should change the laws that set statutory deadlines for regulatory action, not add additional burdens to ensuring federal agencies are following congressional mandates.