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Who’s Regulating the Regulators?

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In my law library we not infrequently refer people to state (or federal) regulators, whether the question is about professional licensing, premises inspections, or other service within the purview of a government regulator.

But who regulates the regulator? This is not a new question and in fact has probably been around since there was anything to regulate (including the oldest of the oldest of professions).

In the news recently we hear about the stunning, stupefying, failures in the regulation of the food industry (peanuts, for example) and the financial industry (the SEC and Mr. Madoff, for example), and state and local examples of regulatory failures could be trotted out too (buildings, bridges, fire safety, etc.).

So, who does regulate the regulator? In part, it is a legislative function, but in large part it is you! It’s not easy to keep your representatives and their delegates on the straight and narrow, but it can be illuminating and rewarding. A recent reminder of this is the 2/18/09 story in the Willamette Week, by James Pitkin (on p. 8 of the print edition):

Big Blue’s Big Break: One woman challenges the state’s rollover for health insurer Regence.

When Karen Kirsch’s health-insurance premium jumped from $444 a month to $559 a month in one year, she did what no Oregonian has done before.

The 63-year-old retired psychotherapist from Northwest Portland called bullshit on the state Insurance Division by challenging a rate increase it approved.

Her case could affect 88,000 Oregonians who took a collective $11.8 million hit when the Insurance Division let Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon raise its premiums on individual accounts in July. Kirsch wants July’s quarterly increase rescinded.

Her attorney says the case shows just how easy it can be for Oregon’s largest insurer to strong-arm the agency charged with preventing insurers from gouging customers….”(read full article)

What is a regulator or a regulatory agency or a regulating body? For a brief description, try the Library of Congress administrative law webpage. Visit a law library or look at their research guides, e.g. Georgetown’s or the University of Washington Law Library’s guide.

See the Oregon Blue Book for descriptions of the various Oregon administrative agencies and regulatory bodies (and then visit their individual websites).