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Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
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Dockery: Regulatory reform is easier said than done

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You hear it all the time in political campaigns: Government is too big, there are too many regulations, and we need less government. But one lesson I learned from many years in the Florida Legislature is that regulatory reform is easier said than done; it is never-ending and difficult to quantify.

When I first ran for the House, many small business owners told me their No. 1 concern was to reduce regulations on their businesses. I was more than willing to be their ally in that quest.

In truth, there are a lot of laws, regulations and rules that add cost and waste time. The abundance of rules adds frustration, causes confusion and creates the need to hire lawyers, consultants and accountants to ensure compliance.

So I wholeheartedly agreed with Gov. Rick Scott when he declared soon after taking office that he was on a mission to reduce regulations. I also knew it wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought, and there wasn’t a sense of finality to the reduction.

It’s important to note that rules are necessary to protect consumers, to implement policy, to protect resources and to ensure public health, safety and welfare. There is a delicate balance between what is necessary and what is excessive, burdensome or intrusive.

The low-hanging fruit in regulatory reform is the duplicative, obsolete and unnecessary rules that should periodically be cleaned up. These seldom offer any relief to businesses, patients, licensees, policyholders, clients, or taxpayers.

It’s much trickier to tackle the meaningful reform. I did learn that not all businesses really want deregulation, at least not from the rules they benefit from.

Even seemingly simple things such as reducing continuing education requirements for hair weaving was met with surprising resistance. Trying to allow direct shipment of wine from elsewhere in the U.S. was a battle royale. And my attempt to remove the restriction that beer could only be legally sold in four different-size containers brought on the wrath of special interests.

Attempts to deregulate several industries, including interior design, led to a meltdown on the Senate floor. The message: Don’t gore my ox. The lesson: One person’s unnecessary regulation is another’s must-have industry-licensing standard. So much for less government and free markets.

Rule reductions should focus on bureaucratic waste, burdensome paperwork, unnecessary licensing, excessive inspections and continuing education. These are the areas that generally provide needed financial and regulatory relief to businesses without sacrificing public safety, welfare or protection.

Rule making is a dynamic process. It requires constant diligence to avoid the trap of over-regulation. This starts with the Legislature. Less legislation and micromanaging leads to less rule making.

Legislators have a love/hate relationship with agencies. Although they require agencies to promulgate rules to implement legislation, they get mad if it’s done in a way they don’t agree with.

We have 25,362 administrative rules. These are broken down by agency on the Florida Department of State website. Eight agencies each have over 1,000 rules. The most heavily regulated agencies are the Department of Financial Services followed by the Department of Health.

So I applaud Gov. Scott for wanting to reduce rules and attempting to do so. I congratulate him on reducing close to the thousand rules he set as his target. It’s important, however, to put that in perspective. A thousand is a mere 4 percent of the 25,000 rules in the administrative code.

Although Scott made a concerted effort to reduce regulation, at the end of his four-year term there will be more rules in effect than when he took office. It is the nature of the beast.

The real measure of success is whether regulation was reduced in areas that made a meaningful difference for struggling small businesses and removed impediments in the lives of our citizens. Did he remove restrictions on what they can buy and where they can buy it? Did he remove requirements and hurdles to start businesses? And did he do so in a way that didn’t jeopardize our natural resources and quality of life?

It really boils down to the quality of the regulatory reform over the quantity of the rules reduced.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.

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