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Walden, Kinzinger Prep FCC Reform Bill

According to a copy of draft FCC reform legislation from House Communications Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and subcommittee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), House Republicans will again try to force the FCC to justify new regs and speed up its decision making. It would also decentralize power over the FCC agenda.

The Federal Communications Commission Process Reform Act of 2013, which closely mirrors legislation that failed to pass both Houses in the last session, would require the FCC to provide at least 60 days of comment on any proposed rulemaking. It also would require that the rulemaking be rooted in a prior notice of rulemaking or notice of inquiry, petition for rulemaking, be at the direction of the courts, or alternately provide some reason why an initial inquiry was not necessary or that the new rule or amendment would not impose additional burdens on the industry of the consumer. The bill would also establish deadlines for commission action and requirements for reporting to Congress.

Any new reg that "may have an economically significant impact" -- at least $100,000,000 -- would have to be justified via an analysis of the market failure, consumer harm, regulatory burden or failure of the public institutions it was meant to redress, as well as a cost-benefit analysis and a determination that the market is not sufficient to resolve the issues without regulation.

It would also require commissioners be given sufficient time to review an FCC decision before having to vote on it -- the chair controls the agenda -- and the public be given at least 60 days in which to comment on any proposed new reg.

The chairman's office would no longer exercise exclusive control over the agenda by allowing a bipartisan majority of commissioners to enlist FCC bureaus to draft their own rule proposals and put them on the agenda for a vote.

The bill would also allow more than two commissioners to meet in private so long as at least one commissioner from each party and an attorney from the Office of General Counsel are present and no vote or any other agency action is taken. The FCC would also have to publish what amounts to minutes from those meetings -- participants, issues discussed.

Currently, sunshine rules prevent more than two commissioners from meeting outside public meetings, which means much of the negotiation and discussion is done through staffers rather than face to face.

In what could be bad news for groups who like to point to the number of indecency complaints prompted by broadcast programming, the bill mandates a searchable public database for complaints, but said that the Commission "shall be required to include only information concerning one such complaint in the database." It was not clear at press time whether that meant the FCC was limited to including one representative complaint per incident in the database, or that it still had the discretion to include all of them.