At a time when partisan talking points too often drown out genuine attempts to improve government, Delaware’s Democrats and Republicans have found common ground on an issue central to putting people back to work: getting rid of bad regulations.
Thoughtful, effective regulations help ensure that we live in safe communities and give businesses a fair chance to compete. But too many rules are outdated, ineffective or overly complicated. They slow economic growth, overburden government and distract all of us from our priorities.
In Delaware, we recently completed a yearlong review that evaluated regulations based on whether they serve a necessary purpose or could be made simpler and more effective. Our wide range of prominent industries, from biotechnology to poultry processing, generates diverse regulatory concerns and allows Delaware to serve as a useful national model.
For example, the state Department of Transportation used to require new entrance permits for commercial properties every time a property changed hands. Even if a business was a drugstore, had always been a drugstore and would always be a drugstore, each property sale required new permitting. That was burdensome and didn’t make anyone safer. It will no longer be required.
Another regulation required installing sidewalks for all new development, adding unnecessary costs to homes, businesses and even firehouses built in rural areas.
The result was the construction of sidewalks to nowhere. Although sidewalks have many benefits, the overly broad application of this rule had little public benefit and added costs to new construction. We will be modifying the requirement to provide builders with more flexibility.
Previously, business owners who needed to retrofit above-ground storage tanks had a limited time -- just 60 days -- to complete a project or they would need a new permit. That put undue pressure on companies trying to run their day-to-day operations. We’ve extended the time frame to a year and required the agency involved to respond swiftly to requests for approval of retrofitting proposals.
In sum, we are modifying or eliminating 140 regulations out of about 400 considered, with a focus on older regulations that most likely need to be updated.
There will always be a need for regulations that protect our health, environment and public safety. One clear example: a proposal to require Delaware homes that are dependent on well water to perform a test when the property is being sold to provide the buyer with water-quality information. Some argued that we should just let the buyer beware, but we disagreed. Clean drinking water is too important.
Although state employees and politicians came up with some good ideas about making our regulatory systems smarter, some of the best ideas came from the people who know best: local businesses and individuals who have to comply with the rules in the first place. Twelve state agencies that oversee regulations held three town-hall meetings to allow the public to express their views.
The revisions to the rules on entrance permits and sidewalk construction were among those that arose from public comments. In other cases, we explained why proposed changes, such as allowing asbestos workers to complete their annual license renewal by mail rather than in person, would not work. We opposed this due to past instances of fraudulent documentation.
This process of public engagement will continue. In an era when businesses have more choices than ever about where to locate, being smart about our state’s regulatory system is even more important.
Many politicians impede progress by reflexively condemning regulations without distinguishing between rules that work and those that don’t. This approach only produces political theater. By collaborating with business and responding clearly to everyone’s concerns -- whether we eventually agree or not -- leaders can make regulatory reform a part of economic growth plans.
(Jack Markell, a Democrat, is in his second term as governor of Delaware. He previously served as the state’s treasurer and was the 13th employee at Nextel Corp., where he served as senior vice president for corporate development.)
To contact the writer of this article: Governor Jack Markell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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