The Republican majority in the Ohio Senate wants to see a reduction in state regulations. To highlight the priority, the caucus devoted Senate Bill 1 to the cause, and the measure, sponsored by Rob McColley, a Napoleon Republican, and Kristina Roegner, a Hudson Republican, won passage in early May. The bill now has landed in a House committee. Yet it appears Senate leaders are not content to wait. A provision in the Senate version of the two-year state budget closely resembles the legislation.
Put another way, if included in the final budget signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, the provision would become law. That would be too bad. As with the original bill, the language is more about making an ideological statement than taking a reasoned and rigorous approach to paring back excessive or unneeded state regulation.
Practically everyone understands the harm in the state applying too heavy of a regulatory hand, especially in bringing headaches to businesses. So casting a close eye to the regulatory burden amounts to good government. It also is true that regulation serves good purposes, from consumer protection to fair competition in the marketplace.
The challenge comes in striking the right balance, or where the Senate provision misses the mark.
An analysis issued last week by Policy Matters Ohio outlines the shortcomings. The Cleveland-based think tank notes that Senate Bill 1 and the budget provision both require state agencies to prepare an inventory of “regulatory restrictions,” defined as containing such words as “shall,” “must,” “shall not,” “may not” or “prohibit.” The budget provision then calls for agencies to remove two or more regulatory restrictions for each new one adopted. This requirement would hold from the effective date through June 2023.
For its part, Senate Bill 1 sets up a staged reduction, toward cutting regulatory restrictions by 30 percent overall. The two-for-one requirement would take effect if an agency falls short in the first stage, which calls for a 10 percent reduction. Both proposals identify exceptions for such things as emergency rules and federal mandates. Policy Matters Ohio points out that the budget provision does not factor the exceptions into the two-for-one rule, thus making the requirement more onerous for agencies.
Proponents describe the effort as seeking to ease the regulatory burden on businesses and strengthen the state economy. Yet taking such a sweeping approach departs from the precision needed to identify those regulations that actually pose undue obstacles to companies. As Policy Matters explains, the limited definition of regulatory restrictions offers little insight into their real effect.
More, Policy Matters reminds that legislators should know as much. After all, regulations are the product of lawmaking, or the work they perform. The analysis emphasizes that as the Senate budget plan orders a reduction in regulatory restrictions, it also includes many elements certain to add new regulations. They include rules for fetal infant mortality boards, lead abatement tax credits, medication-assisted drug reimbursement and tools minors may use under the construction and manufacturing mentorship program.
Many have virtually no direct impact on businesses. Yet under Senate Bill 1 and the budget provision, they would be thrown into the regulatory reduction mix. It is worth adding that state lawmakers already have mechanisms for keeping regulations on target and in check, beyond their own legislating. There is the Common Sense Initiative, aimed at the needs of businesses, and the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.
What does it say that Senate Republicans claim they need a new, ill-conceived way to get the job done? That their provision doesn’t belong in the state budget and that the governor should apply his line-item veto if it survives the conference committee.