How this whole system works is probably one of the most common questions I get from providers as chief medical officer. I’ve had providers ask me how they can get more involved as citizens in either commenting on or helping to craft legislation or regulations. That’s a healthy sign of a democracy and the State of Alaska encourages your participation.
We realize the system can seem complicated if you’re unfamiliar. What is the difference between laws and regulations, for example? Who has the authority to pass both laws and regulations, how it is done, and how is the process different for emergency regulations?
In light of those questions, we thought it would be helpful to provide a brief primer here on how the process works. Remember that Schoolhouse Rock song, “I’m Just a Bill”? This song pops into my head all the time at work and it’s a good refresher, but when it comes to understanding the regulatory process, we recommend the State of Alaska Drafting Manual for Administrative Regulations. This document provides detailed guidance for state officials, agency staff, and the public on the development, processing, and adoption of state administrative regulations. We know you’re busy, so here are some key points, along with a step-by-step guide on how non-emergency regulations are made.
- What are statutes and who enacts them? The power to pass laws lies with the legislature: the state's elected representatives. Once the governor approves a bill or the legislature overrides a veto, the law is enacted and usually made part of the Alaska Statutes. When a statute takes effect, the executive branch has the duty to carry out and enforce it.
- What are regulations and who enacts them? Often the legislature delegates, by statute, a part of its law-making power to an agency in the executive branch. Regulations are the rules and standards that the agency adopts in accordance with that delegation. Some statutes are very prescriptive, some a very vague. The regulation process makes the statute workable while maintaining the intent of the statute. Assuming regulations are properly authorized and publicized, they have the force and effect of law.
- Where can I find the state’s statutes? Through the Alaska Legislature, you can track all bills and enacted laws, or statutes. Alaska Statutes (AS) are publicly available online.
- Where can I find the state’s regulations? After a regulation is adopted by a state agency, it is forwarded on to the Lieutenant Governor’s Office for filing and publishing. Regulations typically become effective 30 days after they are signed (filed) by the lieutenant governor, and the original copies are retained in the office for five years. All adopted regulations are published in the Alaska Administrative Code (AAC). The Alaska State Legislature hosts a publicly available, online version of the AAC.
- What public notice is required for regulations? Except in the case of emergency regulations, departments are required to provide public notice when regulations are proposed and when they are adopted. Notices are published to a widely distributed newspaper in the state and to the Online Public Notice System. This process allows the public to review and comment on regulations before they are adopted, and to learn when a regulation becomes effective. The chart included here shows the process and what part is public and what part is closed. The public comment process occurs during steps 5 and 6 (identified in green) – during the other times the departments cannot talk about the regulation to protect a fair and transparent process.
- Statutes vs. regulations: Just a reminder, the legislature, or your representatives, are the ones who write the statutes, not the executive branch (myself, the commissioner or other DHSS employees). What we do however is write, with the help of public comments, the regulations. At the end of every newsletter I try to include public notices about any regulations that the provider community might want to comment on. These are ones I would love your thoughts and comments on. This will help us ensure these regulations make as much sense as possible.
- How is the process different for emergency regulations? This information can be found on page 24 of the Drafting Manual for Administrative Regulations.
- For more information: Visit the Alaska State Legislature’s website. To find your state representative, enter your address in the “Who Represents Me?” box, located in the lower right corner of the page.
Have more questions or want to become more involved? Feel free to email me or better yet come to Juneau during session, meet your representative and those carrying bills you care about.
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