A group of more than two dozen legislators, business organizations, academics, and advocacy organizations stood together Tuesday in the state Capitol’s Media Center to unveil a report on Pennsylvania’s regulatory reform issues and a package of bills they hope will restructure the state’s regulatory environment in an effort to spur economic development and job creation.
The effort, the group said, is the culmination of work in terms of hearings by the House Republican Policy Committee, the House State Government Committee, and legislation vetted by the newly formed House Common Sense Caucus to look at ways in which the state may be inhibiting business growth through what it sees as onerous and duplicative regulations.
Beginning with the nine-page report from the House State Government Committee entitled “2017-18 Regulatory Overreach Report,” the group takes on Pennsylvania’s regulatory environment as a whole, noting things like the state’s 153,000 regulatory restrictions, a regulatory code of roughly 12.8 million words, and current ways to circumvent the current regulatory review process.
The report then breaks down reform efforts into three main categories: ensuring laws work collaboratively and not punitively with the regulated community; requiring the systematic review of existing regulations; and stopping “bad regulations” before implementation, before delving into a five-bill legislative package aimed at bringing the recommendations to fruition.
It was that five-bill package, some of which was introduced earlier this session, that became the focus of a nearly hour-long press event Tuesday.
For example, House Bill 209, legislation sponsored by Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York), the bill would establish the Independent Office of the Repealer, which would undertake an ongoing review of existing regulations and be the repository for regulatory recommendations related to repealing existing regulation.
“Surely some of these restrictions are not necessary for safeguarding our public safety, health or the environment,” Phillips-Hill said about the need for her bill.
“Over-regulation significantly increases the cost of doing business in the commonwealth and these costs inhibit job creation.”
Hill said she also plans to introduce an amendment to the legislation that would end many current regulations by requiring that for every new regulation an agency proposes, two must be repealed.
“We’ve seen great success at the federal level through the President’s Executive Order for regulatory reform that contained the same requirement,” she said. “The result at the federal level has been 16 rules or regulations eliminated for every one created, saving our federal taxpayers over $8.1 billion in less than a year.”
Also part of the package is House Bill 1237, legislation introduced last year by Rep. Dawn Keefer (R-York) that would require the General Assembly, through concurrent resolution, to approve “economically significant” regulations – regulations that have an annual fiscal impact totaling $1 million or more on the government or private sector.
Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre), who chairs the House Republican Policy Committee, authored House Bill 1792, which would allow the General Assembly to repeal any regulation by concurrent resolution, instead of the current process that requires the governor to approve of a regulatory repeal.
“We believe this will be good for Pennsylvania,” he said about the regulatory reform effort. “At the end of the day, this is about helping our citizens: our family, our friends, and our neighbors. Helping our employers keep them employed and give them good, family-sustaining jobs. It should be done by lawmakers elected to represent them, not regulators.”
House Bill 1959, sponsored by Rep. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland), is aimed at bringing transparency to permitting by establishing the Pennsylvania Permit Act, which would require agencies to create and develop an online navigable database tracking the permit process and giving a statutorily defined rationale for when a permit is delayed or denied.
According to Rothman, the legislation is necessary due to the “time value of money.”
“At least, we owe it to the people investing in our state that they would know where they are in the process and why their permits are being withheld,” he said.
Lastly, House Bill 1960, sponsored by Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler), would require each state agency to appoint a regulatory compliance officer.
In addition to the rank-and-file members working on the issue, three members of the House Republican leadership team – Whip Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), Appropriations Committee Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York), and Benninghoff – stood in support of the bills.
“We are constantly finding regulations, and government agencies themselves, not working together to save the taxpayers of Pennsylvania money,” Saylor said. “We lost 1,000 jobs from November 2016 to November 2017…a big reason was over-burdensome regulations.”
In addition to the legislators, a number of the state’s top business advocacy groups, like the National Federation of Independent Business and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, spoke in support of the regulatory reform effort Tuesday.
“At both the state and federal level, elected legislators have yielded too much power to regulatory agencies who, as a practical matter, are now in the driver’s seat in setting policy that affects every business and family,” said Kevin Sunday, the PA Chamber's director of government affairs. “We strongly applaud efforts by elected officials to re-establish that the legislative branch is the primary branch of government for policymaking.”
All five bills in the regulatory reform package have been referred to the House State Government Committee for action. As of press time, no meeting date has been set for when the bills might be considered.
Jason Gottesman is the Harrisburg Bureau Chief of The PLS Reporter, a news website dedicated to covering Pennsylvania’s government.