Governor Rick Scott on a mission to repeal 1,000 state rules

Sep 6, 2011

The following article was published in the St. Petersburg Times on September 6, 2011:

Gov. Rick Scott on a mission to repeal 1,000 rules

By Janet Zink

Gov. Rick Scott is on a crusade to repeal more than 1,000 state rules that target everything from dwarf tossing to gambling and real estate licenses.

The rules — which are crafted by state agencies to implement laws passed by the Legislature — typically are repealed by the agency that wrote them.

But the governor’s office now says it will ask lawmakers to repeal all of the rules in one shot next year.

“Every rule costs money. Just the fact that you have to research to find out if you’re in compliance,” Scott told the Times/Herald. “It’s so complicated, people have to hire consultants to figure out how to comply.”

Many of the rules Scott wants deleted duplicate federal regulations, or are obsolete or unnecessary, Scott and others say.

Democrats don’t object to the idea, but they want Scott to follow the typical process, which includes public notices and sometimes public hearings.

“We should always be looking at the rules, but we should maintain the process we’ve set forward,” said Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando.

Scott has made rule-making one of the key points of his first year in office. In January, he signed an executive order requiring his newly created Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform to formally sign off on all proposed rules. The Supreme Court ruled last month that the order violated the state Constitution.

But the court order doesn’t stop Scott from reviewing rules and recommending changes.

State agencies develop hundreds of new rules each year, after legislators pass laws shaping state policy to their persuasion — be it changes to the public education system or an overhaul of elections laws.

But lawmakers typically leave the nitty-gritty details to state agencies to work out. Legislators, for instance, passed a law this year requiring that new Florida public school teachers be paid, in part, based on the performance of their students. But they gave the Department of Education the latitude to figure out exactly how that will work.

The result of that legislation, and most others, is new rules that will be created and kept in the Florida Administrative Code, which now includes more than 20,000 rules contained in 15 volumes maintained by the Department of State.

Scott acknowledges that some rules are necessary for health and safety reasons. But others, he says, that do little to protect the public and add to the cost of doing business need to be revised or deleted all together.

In total, Scott wants to repeal 1,000 rules and change more than 1,200 others.

“Every dime a company spends on regulations is a dime they add to what you care about as a purchaser of a product or service,” he said. “You hear the stories. Why do we have to do this? What’s the benefit? The federal government already mandates it or the local governments should do this. Why does it take so long to get an answer and why is it so confusing?”

Take the dwarf-tossing rules.

In 1989, the Legislature passed a law banning dwarf-tossing after bars popularized a promotion that involved throwing dwarfs against a Velcro wall. Rules created to implement that law prohibit “any exploitative contest, promotion or other form of recreational activity which results in the endangerment of the health, safety or welfare of a dwarf on any premises licensed under the beverage law,” but specify the law shouldn’t be interpreted to “prohibit dwarfs from engaging in non-exploitative sporting or recreational events of the type engaged in by persons who are not dwarfs.”

Those rules will stay.

But Scott wants to repeal a rule that defines dwarfism and another that authorizes the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to penalize bars that exploit dwarfs. The second rule already is covered in statute.

That’s potentially two rules off the books — though it would be hard to argue they hinder the state’s economic growth.

Many of the other rules Scott wants to eliminate are in the departments of Environmental Protection and Business and Professional Regulation.

Scott has proposed repealing rules that dictate staffing and security requirements for slot machine operators.

And he wants to eliminate state rules for regulating air pollution control — in this case because federal laws are more stringent.

The two sets of rules add an unnecessary regulatory cost for permitting, Scott said, because businesses try to comply with both.

Scott has slated 295 rules for repeal in the Department of Environmental Protection alone. Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, said none of the repeals threaten current environmental policies.

Yet some recommendations have hit roadblocks.

The Department of Transportation recently began the process to repeal a rule regarding competitive bidding for consulting contracts. But the process has been halted, DOT spokesman Dick Kane said, pending further review.

And last week, the Florida Real Estate Commission agreed to repeal only one of the five rules related to its industry that Scott had targeted.

The commission agreed to nix a rule regulating recordkeeping but quickly rejected a suggestion to repeal a rule that gives the commission authority to fine real estate professionals and unlicensed practitioners.

“There’s no way in God’s green earth we’re going to get rid of that. No. It’s not going to happen,” said Michael Gujo, vice chairman of the commission. The rule is critical, he said, for maintaining the integrity of the real estate industry.

“I’m a Republican. I love the governor, he’s a good man. But I also have a duty to my commission and a duty to the public and a duty to be a good citizen,” Gujo said. “Our job is to protect the people of Florida. Everything else takes a back seat.”

Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who is chairman of the House Rulemaking and Regulation Subcommittee, said he’s open to the idea of taking the decision away from agencies and boards like Gujo’s.

“We’re very desirous of seeing a comprehensive reduction of rules that negatively impact Florida’s business climate,” he said.

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