People who want to use the power of government as a hammer—in action or in political talk—often talk about all those regulations, which both federal and state agencies have, intrusive or not, in abundance.

But they remain mysterious for many people, so it seems reasonable to take a moment to look at what they are, how they happen, and where to find them.

Federal first.

There is a compilation called the Code of Federal Regulations, but it’s cumbersome to go through. The place to go to find out what’s happening in the federal rules is the Federal Register, a daily (on weekdays) publication that includes all sorts of notices, rules and regulations prominent among them. The whole thing is almost a daily diary of what the federal government does, and it’s more than most people could read. I have an e-mail subscription to the daily table of contents (free at https://public.govdelivery.com/accounts/USGPOOFR/subscriber/new) and use it to scan through what the agencies are up to. Links to the full text of all of it is included.

A lot of it is unexciting maintenance stuff, and meeting notices, funding awards, findings of fact and other material is mixed in. But if a rule is being created or amended or repealed, it has to—by law—show up in the Federal Register. Anyone interested in tracking what the federal agencies actually do could do worse than to start there—and it is searchable.

The states all set up rules and regulations that accompany the state laws; laws are passed by the legislature to set the outlines and general policies, and the rules and regulations are developed through the agencies, often to fill in the gaps left by the laws, often with participation—or at the request—of various interests involved with them. Business and environmental groups, for two examples, often pay close attention when rules are being crafted, and often get their message into the mix.

The states report on their regulations in different ways. Until a couple of decades ago, Idaho had no comprehensive catalogue, or publication of changes, to its rules. Now it does, via the state Department of Administration, in the office of the rules coordinator (that’s a state job). You can find it online at adminrules.idaho.gov.

That office puts out a monthly publication called the Idaho Administrative Bulletin, which includes all the changes either being made or under review. It expands and contracts in size through the year like an accordion, because the Idaho Legislature reviews all the rule changes each session, and during the legislative season rulemaking activity comes to a near halt. Other months, there’s a good deal more, especially not long after and not long before the session. In the July edition (it publishes the first Wednesday of each month), the Bulletin runs 117 pages, reflecting a mid-cycle stretch. In certain months it can become much larger; the edition from last October ran 863 pages.

That’s a lot of Idaho rule-making, but not especially unusual. The legislature’s job, when it passes laws, isn’t to try to work out every detail of how a law is supposed to work; but by the time state employees have to make it work, they have to know what to do and how to do it, in a practical and consistent way. Hence the rules.

The regulations are in other words where you really get down into the weeds, into the details of how things work. It’s not the most exciting place to prowl around, as a general rule. But if you want some real insight into how governments, federal or state (or local too, for that matter) work, this is where you can most readily get some solid insight.

Randy Stapilus is a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor, blogs at www.ridenbaugh.com. He can be reached at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com. A book of his Idaho columns from the past decade, “Crossing the Snake,” is available at www.ridenbaughpress.com/crossing.

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