Maryland Governor Creates Business-Led Group to Reduce 'Out of Control' Regulations
By Michael Dresser
Vowing to free Maryland businesses from what he called "nonsensical, out-of-control" regulations, Gov. Larry Hogan launched a commission Thursday charged with reviewing every rule on the state's books with an eye to streamlining or eliminating them.
The Republican governor, following up on campaign promises, told reporters that his new Regulatory Reform Commission will make recommendations to eliminate regulations that discourage businesses from coming to or staying in Maryland.
"We promise a top-to-bottom review of all regulations and policies to make sure that Maryland can once again operate under a fair, accountable and balanced regulatory climate," Hogan said. He said the panel will target rules that are outdated, failed to meet their goals, or are poorly drafted or implemented.
Critics objected to the composition of the 10-member panel, which is made up almost entirely of business interests. Six of the members, including co-chair James A. Soltesz, were identified as chief executive officers of companies and a seventh as president. The other co-chair is Baltimore securities lawyer Abba David Poliakoff of the firm Gordon Feinblatt.
The other members include a representative of the agricultural community and Hogan transition chief James T. Brady, a former secretary of business and economic development.
The group included no representatives of labor, environmental organizations or nonprofits -- groups that typically seek a role in how regulations are written and enforced. Aides to the governor said more people might be added.
Hogan said the commission would scrutinize a wide swath of rules -- dealing with such areas as the environment, transportation, health, labor standards, occupational licensing, banking and finance, land use and insurance. He identified excessive regulation as one of the three "deadly self-inflicted wounds" holding back business in Maryland. (The others, he said, are high taxes and an anti-business attitude.)
Henry Bogdan, public policy director for Maryland Nonprofits, said he was concerned by what he considers a lack of diversity on the panel.
"Someone should be at the table to speak for the reasons those regulations were put there in the first place," he said.
Karla Raettig, executive director of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, expressed similar concerns. She said the environmental community wants Maryland to increase jobs but believes a well-protected natural environment helps attract businesses.
"One of the things they need to be examining when they look at these regulations are the benefits they bring," she said.
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said the governor wants a panel that reflects the business interests.
"It represents the governor's point of view," he said.
Brian Poffenberger, president of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the commission. Of the three problems Hogan identified, he said, heavy-handed regulation is the greatest threat.
"It is the one that will shatter a business plan most severely because business are based on predictability," he said.
Poffenberger said the membership of the panel was appropriate.
"You want people with a deep business background," he said.
Hogan told reporters that the commission would continue through the next three years of his administration and make recommendations each December. The governor said some of the panel's recommendations might require legislation, while others could be adopted administratively.
He said the panel will report to Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who will serve as honorary chairman.
It was unclear how the group would interact with a similar commission created in a bill passed by the General Assembly, and signed by Hogan this year.
That panel, charged with investigating the impact of regulations on small business, will include lawmakers and business owners appointed by legislative leaders, in addition to Hogan Cabinet secretaries.
"I don't know the difference between what the governor's doing and what he signed into law," said House Speaker Michael E. Busch, a Democrat who said he received no advance notice of Hogan's plans. An official in Democratic Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller's office said he was not informed either.
Mayer said the governor's commission would be reviewing all regulations in Maryland, not just those affecting small business.
It is not unprecedented for Maryland governors to appoint panels to review regulations and try to streamline government in the state. Gov. Martin O'Malley undertook a review that led to the elimination or revision of more than 130 regulations in 2012. And Busch recalled a similar initiative under Gov. William Donald Schaefer in the early 1990s.
Busch said Hogan was acting within his authority.
"He's the governor," the speaker said. "He has the right to review every regulation."
But Busch said any legislative proposals developed by the panel would be "highly scrutinized" by the General Assembly.
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