Editorial by NFIB/Washington State Director Patrick Connor
Warning: No glamour or sexiness ahead. You’re on the road to regulations.
Safe bet you couldn’t measure a pulse beat of interest among the public on the issue of regulations, even though regulations affect them in a big, although indirect, way: Having a job.
As part of their job, however, Washington state’s policymakers have a duty to know as much about regulations as possible, and a poll on regulations released February 15 by the National Federation of Independent Business can be of illuminating help.
NFIB’s poll measures the effect and extent of regulations on small-business owners over 22 questions. Two of NFIB’s conclusions are especially worth every policymaker’s consideration:
- Few if any regulatory agencies consider the overall costs of all regulations on firms when considering their own. Each agency acts as is if there is no limit to the amount of money that firms can collectively spend on compliance; there is no coordination, no priorities set.
- Unlike tax policy, which broadly impacts all firms in much the same way, regulations are administered by a myriad of government agencies, at different levels of government impacting sometimes very narrowly defined types of businesses. Thus, it is difficult to construct a comprehensive approach to easing the burden. However, the better policy makers understand the impact of regulations on small-business owners, the more able they will be to lessen the burden.
Olympia is not the biggest problem, as the poll points out, “All levels of government contribute to the regulatory compliance burden … But the main culprit for half of small employers is the federal government. Thirty percent find regulations promulgated at the state level most burdensome while 15 percent are most impacted at the local level.”
It’s also important to point out that not all interactions with regulatory agencies are adversarial or bad. Under the poll’s Interactions with the Regulators section, it found only one in 10 small employers who have been fined. Of the 41 percent who have reached out to talk with someone at a government agency, 19 percent were very satisfied with their experience, and another 50 percent were generally satisfied.
Quite simply, the measures would require state agencies to identify what rights or protections, if any, a small-business owner has when selected for audit, inspection, or other agency enforcement action, and how those rights or protections are communicated to the business owner prior to or at the time of the agency visit.
“The ability to grow a business, invest and create jobs is as inalienable as our traditional basic freedoms,” said Sen. Lynda Wilson. “Too often, business owners have their rights to due process and legal rights run over when government agencies get involved. These (HB 1352, SB 5230) are basic protections that we can all agree any individual or small business deserves to have to get a fair chance to build a future.”
As Sen. Guy Palumbo aptly put it, “Family-run small businesses don’t have the luxury of in-house attorneys like large corporations do. That’s why we need to do better as a state, letting small-business owners know what their rights are when inspected or audited, so they can comply with the rules without having to break the bank on a high-priced lawyer.”
In what can only be likened to Halley’s Comet for rare occurrences, on the same day the results from NFIB’s poll were released, the Washington Senate passed SB 5230 on a 46-0 vote. Later that afternoon, the House State Government, Elections & Information Technology Committee passed HB 1352 by the same, bipartisan unanimity.
Gov. Jay Inslee and the affected agencies in the legislation started out neutral in their positions on the measures. Given the strong, bipartisan support behind the measures, it will be difficult for them not to be supportive.