Virginia puts Internet, public into rule-making

Virginia is turning to the Internet to get the public more involved in the commonwealth's rule-making process and to shorten the time it takes to put proposed regulations into law.

Although Virginia has always sought comment from the public on proposed regulations, the World Wide Web-based Virginia Regulatory Town Hall is designed to make it easier for people to stay in touch with the process, said Jay Lagarde, senior analyst in the Department of Planning and Budget.

Not only will people be able to view proposed regulations on the Web site, they can sign up to be notified by e-mail when documents are posted, a comment period begins or a relevant meeting is being held.

Additionally, the Web site will include background discussion documents, economic impact studies and other supplementary material, which have not been widely available before. The Regulatory Town Hall "is going to provide unprecedented public access to the details of the rule-making process," Lagarde said.

Commonwealth regulations have a broad influence, affecting everything from agriculture and mining safety requirements to business and education certification.

Agencies are required to seek comment from the public as they develop or modify regulations, but people interested in participating generally had to subscribe to department publications or comb through the Virginia Register.

Between spotting errors and finding more creative and less expensive ways to get things done, "people have an enormous role to play in making sure regulations are designed correctly," Lagarde said.

Virginia also has developed a Web-based application to automate its process for reviewing regulations internally.

Proposed regulations must be approved by a large number of offices throughout the government, including cabinet secretaries, the Department of Planning and Budget, and the governor's policy office. The new intranet-based application will ensure that the proposed regulations move through the appropriate offices electronically, cutting a lot of paper out of the process as well as streamlining it.

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