Gov. Charlie Crist has until Friday to act on HB 1565, an overhaul of rule-making procedures that would limit the ability of state agencies to pass new regulations.
In recent weeks, several environmental groups and state agencies have called for the governor to veto the bill, which passed both the Florida House and Senate unanimously.
The bill’s supporters, including business groups and organizations that represent local governments, say it will attract jobs and private investment to Florida by limiting the regulatory burden on businesses.
The bill would require state agencies, such as the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Department of Environmental Protection, to assess the impact any proposed rule will have on the state’s economy. If the costs — including employment, private investment, and economic growth — of any regulation are projected to exceed $1 million over five years, the regulation must be ratified by the legislature before it can take effect.
Thom Rumberger, chairman of the Everglades Trust, calls the bill “absurd,” saying its standards are so broad that it will hamper agencies’ ability to adopt most rules since the cost estimates include such “indirect” factors as future economic growth.
Hank Largin of the St. Johns River Water Management District explains that state agencies pass thousands of regulations a year. Some are minor, but then if the bill passes, many could not be passed without approval by the legislature, which meets only 60 days out of the year unless a special session is called.
“It would affect virtually all of our rule-making,” he says.
Jose Gonzalez, vice president of government relations for Associated Industries of Florida, counters that if regulators are imposing burdensome costs on businesses, they should change the way they regulate. The bill does not strip regulators of their rule-making power, he said; it encourages them to pass rules that do not take a toll on businesses.
“Agencies are always going to find a way to defend the status quo,” he says.
If a rule is worth the cost, he adds, the legislature will likely approve it. The process created by H.B. 1565 will give affected industries a chance to weigh in before a rule takes effect.
Largin says that existing rule-making procedures require public meetings, where proposed regulations are discussed and objections can be raised. By getting the legislature involved, the bill would inject politics into that process.
In a letter urging Crist to veto the bill, Rumberger, a lawyer by vocation, makes a similar point, alluding to the constitutional separation of powers between branches of government:
Implementing legislation has historically been the role of the Governor and his agencies, depoliticizing the day-to-day decisions of how a law is implemented. If signed into law HB 1565 would mean that the Legislature not only pass the laws, but implement them too.
Edie Ousley, a spokeswoman for the Florida Home Builders Association, which supports the bill, says it would be better to leave regulatory decisions to elected legislators than to unelected bureaucrats.
The bill is also essential to keeping Florida’s business climate competitive with other those of other Southeastern states, she says.
Gonzalez, of Associated Industries, says bureaucratic hassles, such as delays and fees associated with applications for building permits, which are more burdensome in Florida than in Georgia and Alabama, make neighboring states more attractive to private investors.
By all accounts, this year’s legislative session, which ended April 30, focused on jobs, the economy, and helping small businesses. The Florida Chamber of Commerce lauded the business-friendly legislature for passing most of the items on its 2010 Business Agenda.
H.B. 1565 was passed unanimously by both chambers. According to Associated Industries’ daily legislative briefing from April 29, when the Senate approved the measure, “The bill passed without any debate or question from members.”
Gonzalez, who sat in on the sessions, says the bill was given the necessary tweaks when it was debated by the House.
Charles Pattison, president of 1,000 Friends of Florida, an environmental organization that opposes the bill, questions whether the legislators examined the potential consequences of the bill they were approving. Any measure billed as an attempt to help protect jobs and small businesses were virtually guaranteed to pass, especially this session, he says.
Rumberger, of the Everglades Trust, scoffs at the notion that the bill, or deregulation in general, is necessarily pro-business.
“I don’t want business regulated to the point where it can’t grow,” he says. “I just don’t want the horses running the stables. Do you want a government that functions, or do you just want to turn it over to companies?”
[Pic via commons.wikimedia.org]