The federal and state governments all have three branches of government: legislative, executive, and judiciary. While the authority to make laws generally rests with the legislative branch, executive branch agencies (also known as administrative agencies) may be given authority to promulgate rules of their own, without going through the legislative process. Statutes such as the federal Administrative Procedure Act set forth the procedures that executive agencies must use when adopting, modifying, or rescinding regulations.
When an administrative agency wants to promulgate new regulations, it first must publish the proposed regulations in the jurisdiction’s administrative register. The administrative register notifies the public of actions by the jurisdiction’s executive branch. Contents of administrative registers vary by jurisdiction, but they can include proposed regulations, final regulations, notices of public hearings, and new court rules.
The publication schedules of administrative registers vary by jurisdiction. The United States federal government publishes its administrative register (the Federal Register) every business day. Many states (including Pennsylvania) publish their administrative registers weekly.
After proposed regulations are published in the jurisdiction’s administrative register, the public is given the opportunity to comment on regulations. After the public comment period, the final regulations are published in the administrative register and go into effect.
In addition to an administrative register, every jurisdiction also has an administrative code. This is a compilation of all current administrative regulations of a jurisdiction, arranged by subject. As new regulations are created by the jurisdiction, they are incorporated into the jurisdiction’s administrative code. As old regulations are repealed, they are removed from the administrative code.
To locate current administrative regulations, a researcher needs to review their jurisdiction’s administrative code. To make sure their information is accurate, the researcher also needs to check the currency date of their version of the administrative code and then determine if any issues of the jurisdiction’s administrative register have been published after the current date. If issues of the jurisdiction’s administrative register have been published after the administrative code’s currency date, the researcher needs to review those issues to determine if they include any information relevant to their interests.
Outside of the regulatory process, executive branch agencies may produce other documents with important legal consequences, such as executive orders, attorney general opinions, agency adjudications, no-action letters, and policy statements. The availability of those resources varies by jurisdiction.
That is a basic overview of general administrative law research. The rest of this guide discusses how to conduct Pennsylvania administrative law research.
The Pennsylvania Manual is a biennial guide to Pennsylvania's government, published by the Department of General Services. It includes information on matters including: