'Separation of Powers' Act Likely Focus For Ratcliffe
As U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe is sworn into Congress this week, here's what to expect from his second term.
Top of the likely priorities is H.R. 4768, the Separation of Powers Restoration Act, or SOPRA, which was sponsored by Ratcliffe and passed the House last year.
According to the conservative activist group Heritage Action for America, which supports the bill and is affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, SOPRA:
... amends the Administrative Procedure Act, requiring courts to conduct a “de novo”, or new, review of all relevant questions of law, including the interpretation of constitutional and statutory provisions and the provisions of agency rules. This will essentially overturn the 1984 decision leading to the creation of Chevron deference, requiring courts to interpret the law rather than defer to an agency’s interpretation and thereby restoring balance in the court’s decisions between executive authority and legislative intent.
That would strip authority from experts at the Environmental Protection Agency and other government departments which evaluate and approve projects.
In June, the Obama administration indicated it would not allow the bill to become law if it passed the Senate during the president's term because:
... it would unnecessarily overrule decades of Supreme Court precedent, it is not in the public interest, and it would add needless complexity and delay to judicial review of regulatory actions. This legislation would allow Federal courts reviewing an agency action to conduct de novo review of all relevant questions of law without deferring to the legal interpretation of the agency. Both Federal statutes and case law provide Federal courts with the appropriate tools to review regulatory actions and afford appropriate deference to the expertise of the agencies that promulgated the rules and regulations under review.
President-Elect Donald Trump, however, has promised to sign the bill into law, Ratcliffe told KETR in an interview at his home on election night:
I’ve had a conversation with Donald Trump. That if he’s in the White House, he’s indicated to me that he would be supportive and would sign that bill into law. And that would go a long way to helping small business owners, bankers, farmers, folks all across the fourth congressional district with the regulatory burdens that they’re facing right now.
Ratcliffe cited the proposed Lower Bois d'Arc Creek Reservoir project for Fannin County as one project likely to benefit from the bill.
The reservoir was stalled for over a year as the agency building the lake waited to receive a key water rights permit from the EPA.
Ratcliffe re-introduced the bill upon being sworn in for his second term Tuesday.
In a statement posted afterwards, the congressman called for "wholesale reform" to the federal government in response to November's election result.:
Our soon-to-be unified Republican government has provided an open door for actually reversing the overregulation that's multiplied so drastically under President Obama’s watch. Now it’s time to deliver results to the American people.
Military Gear for Police
In a video posted to the congressman's Facebook page, Ratcliffe reiterated promises to push forward on H.R. 4880, the Protecting Lives Using Surplus (PLUS) Equipment Act of 2016. That bill would reverse an administrative order limiting police use of military equipment.
In an interview with the Herald Democrat newspaper last spring, shortly after he introduced the bill, Ratcliffe said that order placed undue restrictions on the police:
Even things as simple as riot helmets and riot shields, they're considered controlled equipment, which means police would have to comply with a list of conditions ... Frankly, when there are terrorist events, police departments don't have time to have a team of lawyers review a government checklist to comply.
The order followed allegations that police in Ferguson, Mo., used military tactics against protesters after the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014.
The United States is experiencing a trend of police militarization due to the availability of surplus equipment from numerous military engagements abroad.
Experts say use of such equipment in routine police work increases the likelihood of violence and has a disparate impact on communities of color.
The Fraternal Order of Police argues that the list of restrictions is overly broad. It objects to restrictions being placed on protective items such as anti-ballistic shields and helmets as well as armored vehicles.
Last summer, the Obama administration placed the order under review following two attacks on police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, La.
A former U.S. attorney and mayor of Heath, Ratcliffe was elected to Congress after unseating Rep. Bob Hall in the 2014 Republican primary.
He sits on the House Homeland Security and House Judiciary committees.