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Regulatory review legislation tries again

Mississippi has a law on the books that is supposed to educate businesses on the effects of new rules and regulations.

An effort to strengthen that law and to establish a commission whose members would include business owners to review new rules will soon be a part of the 2012 legislative session.

According to the federal Office of Advocacy, Mississippi is one of 26 states that already have a partial regulatory flexibility statute, meaning there is already a mechanism in place to alert businesses of how new rules will impact them, and ways rules can be altered after they’re enacted.

Legislation to create a full-blown review of proposed rules before they take effect has cleared the Senate in past sessions and has been on the calendar for floor debate in the House, but has failed to advance.

“It would allow us to look and see if there’s a more flexible way to alter the rules and regulations that come out, to where the intent can still apply without inflicting a (financial) burden,” said Ron Aldridge, director of the Mississippi National Federation of Independent Businesses. The organization has spent several sessions lobbying for a review commission. “That’s what this is about, is to put into law in Mississippi a framework where small business owners can sit on a commission and give feedback to the agencies as the rules are being put into place but before they take effect. The way it works now, if they do harm on the front end, you can alter them later. By then, though, they’ve done their damage.”

Aldridge listed as an example Mississippi’s window tint law, last modified in 2005, in which the Mississippi Department of Public Safety mandated tint darker than a particular shade be inspected, and receive clearance for road use. The process is similar to the one that governs state inspection stickers for vehicles. Law enforcement agencies are allowed to have darker tint on their vehicles than civilians.

“It ended up that these places that did the inspections, it was going to cost them so much to deal with these rules it wasn’t any way they could actually do it,” Aldridge said. “The people who would have been impacted by it never got to sit down with the agency and figure out a way to make it work before the rule was passed.”

Aldridge said a number of rule-making state agencies have opposed the legislation, for the same reasons they opposed the original administrative procedures law passed in 2003 and officially put on the books in 2005. Former secretary of state Eric Clark pushed that legislation, which requires agencies to project what kind of impact new regulations might have on targeted businesses.

“But it doesn’t give any frame of reference for that,” Aldridge said. “In other words, what do they mean when they say small business. This review commission would define that, and it would make agencies more clearly state what the impact would be. Right now, all they have to do is say this has no impact, or little or minimal impact. How do they know? Unless you’ve been in that business yourself, you don’t know. Minimal impact for one person could have an entirely different meaning for another. One size does not fit all. Also, a commission will let us look at what’s already in place and see if there are any modifications to rules that have proven to be harmful that will maintain their purpose but reduce or eliminate the costs associated.”

Sen. Chris McDaniel, R-Laurel, has sponsored since 2008 legislation that would create a regulatory review commission. He said in an interview last week he plans to do the same this session.

“It’s always good to have honest feedback from business professionals and business owners. They need to know very specifically on the front end what a new rule will mean for them.”

Aldridge and McDaniel are optimistic new House leadership will be amenable to the bill’s passage. Gov. –elect Phil Bryant has already endorsed the idea, and may introduce a bill of his own, according to a press release from his office.

“I think the chances of its passage are greatly improved,” McDaniel said.

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