The Role of State Agencies in Policy Making (transcript)

Today’s podcast is about state agencies and their role in public policy development. California’s agencies – including departments, board, and commissions – engage in a fair amount of public policy making through both their rule making authority, as well as their interpretation and enforcement of existing statutes and regulations.

These state agencies are the ones who generally run the day-to-day operations of state government, and they’re charged with implementing the statutes adopted by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor. With over 200 of these agencies in California state government, there are many state agencies that do policy development by adopting regulations and implementing statutes. They can also engage in policy making when issuing guidelines, legal opinions, management memos, and other sorts of written documents wherein they interpret and implement laws and regulations.

Generally speaking, the authority of state agencies to adopt policy through their rule making process is defined and often restricted by state statute. These statutes usually prescribe each agency’s authority to adopt policy. And of course, it’s an established principle of administrative law that an agency cannot go beyond its legally prescribed authority to regulate. On the other hand, many statutes confer broad powers to some state agencies regarding matters that directly affect the public generally. The regulations and administrative practices of these agencies often affect millions of Californians in their daily lives.

It’s important to understand the rule making process and the role of state agencies in conducting rule making. One interesting phenomenon is that businesses cannot rely in good faith upon the written determinations issued by state agencies. State agencies’ written interpretation is often not given significant legal weight by a reviewing court. In other words, despite being charged with interpreting, implementing, and enforcing California statutes and regulations, individuals and businesses that obtain written guidelines from state agencies have little to no protection from legal liability if they follow that written guidance.

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