On his second day in office, Gov. Eric Greitens stood behind the governor’s desk in his office on the second floor with a mountain of boxes filled with paper stacked around him. His staff live streamed the proceedings over Facebook.
“Folks, this isn’t a stunt,” he said. “These are the actual rules and regulations people of Missouri have to deal with. Today, I’m signing an executive order that immediately freezes all regulation. We came here to cut government and to help people.”
The executive order prevented all state bodies under the governor’s purview from creating new regulations and orders a complete review of all current regulations already on the books.
The newly-minted governor expounded on the issue again in his State of the State address. He told a story of two women who had tried starting a business braiding hair only to discover they needed 1,500 hours of training to earn a hair braiding certificate from state government.
“Over the course of the last 17 years, Missouri has issued over 40,000 pages of new regulations,” he said. “If you laid those pieces of paper end to end, that’s over 5 miles of new regulations.
“These regulations, and those that come down from Washington, cost people money. We need to end frivolous regulations like these so that our people can start their own businesses and create jobs.”
In the new governor’s short tenure, he has made a clear commitment to cutting regulations even if specifics have been sparse. But which ones specifically have the most harmful effect on Missourians? How will the governor decide which regulations do more harm than good? Thus far, his office has kept mum on the specifics.
Regulation versus law
Sen. Bob Dixon, a 14-year veteran legislator of the General Assembly, fundamentally agrees with Greitens’ desire to cut regulation and red tape for businesses. In fact, he sponsored a bill in 2012 signed by Gov. Jay Nixon to create a rotating regulatory review making each state administrative rule subject to review every five years. The process began in 2015. The bill was designed to restrict government regulation and prune unnecessary or outdated rules, but also do it in a reasonable process so as not to clog all state agencies at once.
However, Dixon sees cutting regulation as only a small part of truly reducing the size of government.
“Most of the time… when the public talks about burdensome government regulation, most of that isn’t regulation. Most of it is laws,” Dixon says. “The legislature or the federal government has passed burdensome laws.”
One such example:
“Like the one mentioned by the governor about hair braiders, that’s a state law and it was passed by the Republican legislature,” Dixon continues. “I remember when it happened.”
Rep. Shamed Dogan has a bill specifically designed to remove the licensing burden on hair braiders, and Dixon says many more bills like that will be needed to rectify the true problems with the “burdensome regulation” disdained by most and especially by conservatives.
Dixon says the glut of new laws has made government bloated and gunked up. During the first 100 years of statehood, the Missouri General Assembly created enough laws to fill 10 statute books. From 1990 to 2000, just a decade, there were another 10 books added. When the statute are republished in the next few years, Dixon says the state will likely have 22 books of statutory language total, and it’s not because of an increase in font size.
Part of the problem Dixon believes is the literal size of the legislative body. Missouri has the fourth largest House of Representatives in the country with 163 members behind Georgia’s 180, Pennsylvania’s 203, and New Hampshire’s massive 400-member body. Term limits also contribute to the problem as new lawmakers are likely not as knowledgeable of what is already in statute as more experienced legislators. Part of the problem, Dixon adds, is actually the industries asking for licensing laws and provisions to limit competition. They often then turn around and complain about intrusive government regulation.
“They can’t have it both ways,” Dixon says.
Haahr’s lone bill
However, a bill from Rep. Elijah Haahr, the only bill he has filed so far this session, is designed to slow the tide of licensing laws that often comprise the most daunting of regulations. HB 609 would prevent new laws regarding professional licensing from consideration by the General Assembly unless it can fulfill certain requirements. If the state has a compelling interest in regulating a profession enough to demand licensing, such as public health or major environmental concerns, then it would qualify for greater regulatory oversight.
Hair braiders would likely not fall under that purview.
Prospective small businesses benefit from the bill because it removes barriers to new businesses, and existing businesses benefit because the legislation helps jobless people get back into the workforce.
“If the barrier to your re-entry is an occupational license, that may stop you from seeking a job,” Haahr says. “If you go into the military or in jail, but you need to take a great deal of classes, it prevents you from applying to jobs. These regulations often prevent competent workers from entering the workforce.”
Haahr also wants to look at creating reciprocity agreements with other states, so if a welder gets a certain type of license in Virginia or Washington, they would not need to be re-certified for a highly similar or identical license in Missouri.
For Haahr, the desire to prevent new frivolous regulations provides the Missouri Republican Party the opportunity to ultimately achieve the conservative ethos of reduced government interest. Labor reform and tort reform have taken up most of the first month of the legislature’s time, and debate will likely continue on those issues for some time. However, Haahr and Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, have both hinted these bills will definitely find time on the House floor in a legislative session loaded with major pieces of legislation. Richardson even called the bill a “top priority.”
“When you move past the big ticket items, there are some places we can get down into the weeds that can have a substantive impact on our workforce and our economy,” Haahr says.
While Haahr has chosen to make this his major legislative priority of the session, he has support from other legislators and outside groups. Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, will carry a similar bill in the Senate, though it is still being drafted. Rowden is confident his own bill will be prioritized in the Senate. With the new administration, Rowden says now is the time to take bolder action on regulatory reform.
“It’s an area where the support we’ve seen… it crosses over partisan spectrums,” he says. “Everyone wants to remove as many barriers of entry to businesses. I think it’s a timely action to take.”
Rowden also believes both sides of the Senate will find a lot to like with the bill.
“When you have the conversation of what this bill actually does and what you’re trying to accomplish, I can’t imagine that it’s going to be divisive,” he says.
But perhaps the one group which has championed the effort most outside of government is the Women’s Foundation. Richardson spoke at the Women’s Foundation’s 25th Anniversary Forum in December and promised two things: paid family leave and changes to the way the state handled professional licensing. Wendy Doyle, the president and CEO of the foundation, said the foundation had discovered in their own research of women across the state how important those licensing laws could be to women. She says women often become entrepreneurs as a response to being primary caregivers to children while still looking to remain active in the work force, giving them more flexibility in their schedules than they would experience in other professions.
Haahr’s bill then helps women who want to pursue that path.
“As we move forward as a state, looking at new boards, professional licenses, or commissions, [we] can develop the cost-benefit analysis and really do our homework before something new is approved and we create more government,” she says. “At this point in time for Missouri, I think this is the right time and the right step.”
In doing so, Haahr’s bill then seems to be a manifestation of what the governor wants, what Dixon recommends how government ought to create new laws and what lives up to the Republican philosophy of enabling the free market. Haahr’s bill has been referred to the House Professional Registration and Licensing Committee, and though it does not yet have a hearing, it will be one to watch in the months ahead.