July 25, 2013

Bills in House Judiciary Committee Would Block Public Protections, Increase Abusive Litigation

Federal Regulatory Safeguards at Stake

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Two bills passed by the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday and three more pending passage next week would hamstring federal agencies charged with protecting the public, Public Citizen said today. The organization criticized the committee’s votes in favor of the Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act (H.R. 1493) and the Regulatory Accountability Act (H.R. 2122), and warned of the expected passage next week of the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act (H.R. 2542), the Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development Act (H.R. 2641) and the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act (H.R. 2655).

“The markup of this cadre of harmful bills proves that rather than the oft-referred to ‘tsunami of regulations,’ what we really have is a tsunami of bills designed to slow down our nation's regulatory process,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Congressionally mandated safeguards protecting the safety of our food, air and consumer products are being implemented far too slowly already; piling on additional analytical requirements would make implementing these safeguards take even longer.”

The Regulatory Accountability Act and the Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act each add additional complexity and delay to the federal rulemaking process, where agencies already take years to design and implement standards. The Sunshine for Regulatory Decrees and Settlements Act would make it more difficult for the public to force an agency to take action when it has failed to meet a congressional rulemaking deadline. The Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development Act would weaken environmental review protections for certain construction projects.

“These bills prove that the important lessons from deregulatory disasters like the financial collapse and the BP oil spill have yet to be learned,” said Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Congress should be empowering critical agencies such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to hold regulatory violators accountable to the public and prevent future public health and safety threats, not pushing a false and misleading narrative of regulators run amok. Delays and paralysis are currently the norm at federal agencies, as the glacially slow implementation of Wall Street financial reform shows. Each of these bills would prove disastrous to Americans. The cumulative impact of all of them makes a bad situation much worse.”

While several of the bills would make it extremely difficult for federal agencies to issue rules protecting the public, one of the bills, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act, would effectively dissuade workers and consumers from seeking redress for harm caused by corporate wrongdoing.

“This bill says it will reduce lawsuits, but it will actually do the complete opposite – increase abusive litigation,” said Christine Hines, consumer and civil justice counsel at Public Citizen. “It would unjustifiably remove the discretion of federal judges and re-create an old and expensive problem that had been fixed years ago.”

Currently, judges have discretion to impose sanctions on a lawyer or a party in litigation to deter abuses in the signing of pleadings, motions and other court papers. But the bill would revise a federal legal procedural rule, Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to require sanctions instead of leaving it to the discretion of federal judges.

Studies have shown that when mandatory sanctions were previously in effect, they were used disproportionately against lawyers in consumer and civil rights cases. In the 1980s, disputes over mandatory sanctions caused separate and unnecessary litigation in many cases, and harmed the potential for opponents to cooperate. Instead of focusing on the underlying case, the mandatory sanctions served up costly litigation disputes.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.