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Washington State Dental Association

Why should I care about the DQAC rule-making process? (What is that about anyway?)

By Dr. Robert Shaw, Past President, WSDA

  As most of us know, the rules about life in Washington change from time to time. The avenues for change can come from many different directions. The Legislature is one avenue of change; the people, the federal government, the courts, and stakeholders are others. As new laws are passed, old laws (or their intent) may change or be revised. What was allowed or not allowed may change. Think of the scope of dentistry, and its changes over the past 40 years.

    We call this collection of laws enacted by the Legislature the Revised Code of Washington (RCW). Changes or additions to the RCW may require the Dental Quality Assurance Commission (Commission) to issue new rules as well. In addition, the Commission has the authority to define how to implement these rules and to revise them from time to time. These rules become part of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC). The Commission may also issue less formal rulings called “interpretive statements,” which do not carry the same authority as the WAC. Interpretive statements are used to further define WAC.

    Bills are introduced to the Legislature to create law. They eventually are voted on and either passed or rejected. Bills that pass the House and the Senate and are signed by the governor become part of the RCW and are given an effective date of implementation. After this date, all those affected by the new rule, or rule change, must abide by the law. 

    Laws that are passed often do not spell out their intention of the law with sufficient detail to guide us in implementation. The Commission is often asked to fashion a more detailed interpretation with in-depth instruction. Rules (WAC) are created or modified to provide these details. This is done through the formal rule-making process. Each of these pathways for change follows specific preset steps. 

    Why should you care about the rule-making process? Well, for one, you as a dentist, hygienist, expanded function dental auxiliary (EFDA), or dental assistant are required to follow the rules. You are required to be up to date on these changes and incorporate them into your daily professional life. You are required to follow the rules even if you are unaware that the rules have changed. You could be cited for not knowing or not following the rules.

    The rule-making process can take years to complete. At specific times, the rule-making process calls upon the public for input. This includes all of us. Before rules are changed, the Commission must go through specific steps. This may include focus groups, stakeholders’ input (those affected by the potential changes), public hearings, and the Commission. The Commission is charged with formulating new rules. Although this can be done by the members of the Commission alone, the process always receives stakeholder input.

    The best time for your point of view to be heard is at the beginning of and during the process, not at the end. The Commission often invites stakeholders to help craft these rules, either by giving their testimony at public meetings or through correspondence. You do not need to be an expert to testify or to attend these public meetings. The Commission encourages all stakeholders (you!) to give input about their concerns early in the process, rather than at the end, and to participate in the process so that the end result is a set of rules that addresses public safety, legislative requirements, and stakeholder needs. 

    The Dental Quality Assurance Commission is an agent for change in dentistry. Our committees review existing rules and try to update them as practice changes. We help clarify rules when we find inconsistencies in them or in response to a request by the public or stakeholders to make a change.

    So why should you care about the Commission and the rule-making process? Because everything the Commission does affects you. 

    If you want to know more about what’s going on, look for articles in The WSDA News about Commission business, read our newsletter, or, better yet, sign up for our interested parties list (listserv) to be kept informed about potential changes. Contact Jennifer Santiago at jennifer.santiago@doh.wa.gov for any assistance.

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