Regulatory Authority

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Regulatory authority is the power that the legislature gives an agency to enforce statutes, to develop regulations that have the force of law, and to assist the public in complying with laws and regulations. The power that can be delegated and the method of delegation are determined by the state or federal constitution. Some agencies are charged with enforcing specific statutes passed by a legislative body and given little discretion in their actions. Public health agencies are generally delegated broad authority and wide discretion to develop regulations and enforcement policies based on their expertise. When these regulations are published and adopted by the agency, they have the force of law unless they exceed the agency's statutory authority.

The most important regulatory authority delegated to public health agencies is the power to act quickly and flexiblywithout promulgating formal regulations and without judicial hearings when necessary to respond to exigent circumstances. To prevent abuse, hearings and other review proceedings are available after the action has been taken. More commonly, however, public health agencies promulgate specific regulations or adopt national codes as binding in their jurisdiction. These are enforced through licensing and other mechanisms that require regulated entities to adhere to the regulations. This provides clear guidance for the regulated entities and simplifies enforcement. Deviation from the standards is easily documented, preventing lengthy legal challenges to enforcement actions.

Edward P. Richards

(see also: Licensing; Police Powers; Public Health and the Law )


Grad, F. (1990). The Public Health Law Manual. Washington, DC: APHA Press.

Richards, E. P., and Rathbun, K. C. (1998). "Public Health Law." In Maxcy-Rosenau-Last Public Health and Preventive Medicine, ed. R. B. Wallace. Stamford, CT: Appleton and Lange.