Changing the rules in a big-time way

Aug. 26, 2013 @ 06:00 PM

Republican leaders, such as Gov. Pat McCrory, and state environmental groups agree on one point about a regulatory reform bill that McCrory signed last week — the legislation carries broad long-term implications.
But state GOP officials and conservation organizations disagree almost completely about whether the implications will benefit or harm North Carolinians in coming years.
One piece of legislation passed by the N.C. General Assembly that the governor signed Friday is House Bill 74, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013. The lengthy legislation touches on rules ranging from state regulations of water and air quality to the placement of digital billboards along highways.
The scope of the legislation means it could affect people and businesses through changes in public health as it relates to the environment and rules that govern the day-to-day operation of companies, said John Dinan, professor of political science at Wake Forest University.
The Republican leaders of state government this year took on an array of high-profile issues, from photo IDs for voters and other changes during elections, stricter rules governing abortion and fundamental changes in the tax code. But Dinan said the Regulatory Reform Act may be the most overlooked legislation with a significant impact.
“So much of governance takes places through agency regulations,” Dinan told The High Point Enterprise. “The Legislature can write broad laws, but there’s then the matter of turning these into details. This law proposes to undertake a review of all of the agency regulations.”
McCrory echoes the comments of other state Republican leaders that the Regulatory Reform Act brings long-needed changes to burdensome and unnecessary rules that were in place during Democratic control of state government.
“For decades, Democrats have stifled small businesses and job creators with undue bureaucratic burden and red tape. We have more than 22,000 rules on the books in state government and this is unacceptable,” McCrory said. “This common sense legislation cuts government red tape, axes overly burdensome regulations and puts job creation first here in North Carolina.”
The legislation empowers the McCrory administration to review, revise and repeal “outdated and burdensome” regulations, according to the governor’s office. The legislation has the backing of business groups, such as the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.
But a representative of a conservation group said environmentalists are furious about what they term the “so-called” Regulatory Reform Act, saying in reality the legislation guts important safeguards for the benefit of corporate interests.
“Unless you like unsafe landfills in your neighborhood or obnoxious digital billboards in your community, this grab-bag of special interest goodies is just one more step backward for our state,” said Brian Buzby, executive director of the N.C. Conservation Network.
The legislation would sacrifice the health and well-being of state residents and communities at the behest of “out-of-state business interests,” Buzby said.
Regardless of whether groups support or criticize the legislation, Dinan said its implications are far-reaching.
“It potentially has quite significant consequences, if only because of the number of regulations that are going to be reviewed,” Dinan said.

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Gov. Pat McCrory late last week signed House Bill 74, which is an overhaul of rules of many aspects of state government and environmental regulations. Here are some of the implications:
• Reduces the ability of communities to block or require changes to landfills in neighborhoods
• Allows billboard companies to replace a traditional billboard with a digital billboard, while blocking local governments from limiting the replacement
• Forbids local governments from adopting ordinances that require employers to help fix the impact of traffic congestion resulting from commuting by their employees
• Sets deadlines by which state regulators must readopt most existing environmental protections or have those rules automatically expire. The deadlines cover water quality protections, such as for rivers, lakes and beaches
• Restricts cities and counties from improving environmental and public health protections until October 2014 except by the unanimous vote of local elected leaders
Source: N.C. Conservation Network