Donald Fry: State Web site seeks business feedback on regulations

By Donald C. Fry

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley on October 17 asked state agencies to conduct a 60-day review of regulations to identify those that can be changed or eliminated to help spark job creation.

But here’s a heads-up to business advocates, owners and managers: the governor is not just asking state bureaucrats to tell him about unnecessary, redundant and onerous state regulations.

He’s asking us.

The state set up a Web site — part of its new “Maryland Made Easy” site — titled “Regulatory Reform: Share Your Suggestions.” He’s urging Marylanders to suggest specific regulations “that can be eliminated or reformed.”

So far, two weeks into the 60-day review, the site’s more than 180 responses include precious few that identify specific regulations that directly impede or negatively impact business processes, though some topics of discussion affect businesses indirectly.

Up until now, the site’s responses appear to be dominated by state employees commenting on dozens of issues, including pay, union dues, hiring processes, lack of resources, personnel policies and staffing shortages.

Other citizen responses include comments and complaints on issues ranging from taxes and tolls to driver’s licenses and gun carry permits.

One state worker, calling himself “Frustrated Manager,” did touch on the regulatory process when he complained: “How about all the regulatory requirements heaped upon us while we continue to get positions abolished?”

One of the relatively few responses that relate directly to state regulations and their effect on business came from “KRL,” whose thoughtful suggestions include:

• Have State Stat track all permit application turn-around times;
• Require agency review of all regulations on a rotating basis, with public participation;
• Ensure state regulations are not more stringent than the federal government;
• Have the state’s Department of Business and Economic Development review all proposed regulations affecting business;
• Make business regulations and permit applications available online and allow online applications and payment processes;
• Make a Web site available year-round for regulations feedback.

During a year-long series of focus groups and feedback sessions conducted in 2010 by the Greater Baltimore Committee, the state’s regulatory policies were top of mind among the more than 50 business leaders and economic development experts who participated.

“Regulatory policies that are streamlined, stable and predictable,” is one of eight consensus core pillars for job creation and economic growth developed by participants in the GBC study.

Study participants agreed regulatory policies should be “reasonable, relevant, free of surprises or redundancy, and considerate of businesses’ sense of urgency.” Business executives complained that the state’s permitting processes are generally slow, cumbersome and unpredictable.

For example, when a business decides to expand, a permit could get held up at any stage of the process. Or, it could make it all the way through and get denied at the final step of the process, study participants reported.

The state’s Regulatory Reform feedback page on its “Maryland Made Easy” Web site has been set up to capture examples these kinds of process roadblocks and of redundant and unnecessary regulations.

The governor and his staff appear to be paying attention to comments posted on the site.

One comment from a veteran suggesting that the state’s procurement processes give special consideration to veteran-owned businesses, as well as to minority and disadvantaged business, drew a same-day response from Governor O’Malley.

“Thanks for your comment. I completely agree. In 2010, we passed the Veteran Business Enterprise Participation Bill which aims to help Veteran-Owned businesses,” wrote the governor, who provided a link to the state web page with details on a new procurement preference and other benefits for veterans.

But, so far, responses from business owners, managers and employees detailing onerous regulations or policies that hinder businesses appear to be few and far between.

For the most part, busy business owners and managers do not appear to be taking advantage of this 60-day opportunity to communicate to the State House and to state regulators, examples backing up the business community’s less-than-positive assessment of Maryland’s regulatory policies.

No doubt such examples abound. And state agencies may identify some of them in their own reviews. But the governor is asking the private sector for specifics. Let’s take the time to give him some.

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