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Regulatory reform will make the difference


Regulatory reform isn't the sexiest topic in state government right now, but for small business owners it's everything. It is my belief that Rhode Island is coming close to achieving tangible progress in streamlining our regulatory processes.


Regulatory reform isn’t the sexiest topic in state government right now, but for small business owners it’s everything. I know this, many of my colleagues in the Legislature know this, and it is my belief that Rhode Island is coming close to achieving tangible progress in streamlining our regulatory processes.

Last year, the General Assembly passed a bill I sponsored that required appropriate state agencies to review 25 percent of its regulations each year for four years until all existing regulations have been evaluated for any adverse impacts on small businesses. The state’s goal is to eradicate extraneous regulations and archaic hurdles which serve as unnecessary hindrances to small business owners. Because of the diligence of Director of Regulatory Reform Leslie Taito and the governor’s office, we have been moving at lightning speed to accomplish this task. 

Last month, the Office of Regulatory Reform (ORR) released the “Period 1 Regulatory Look Back Report.” The office’s findings are a direct result of months of legwork, which included thoroughly combing through a portion of the state’s 1,600 business regulations across almost two dozen departments, soliciting economic impact statements for those regulations and highlighting any potential shortcomings. The House Committee on Small Business also held meetings to solicit opinions from the business community. Embedded in this report are 10 key recommendations that could change the face of Rhode Island’s approach to attracting businesses. I will address many of these points at the Small Business Association of New England’s (SBANE) “Your Voice For Small Business” presentation from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 9 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Warwick. However, there are a few I’d like to share here: 

* Map the regulatory environment: The state should provide an up-to-date map of state government organization so small business owners aren’t lost as to where to find information about how to start a business, how to expand their businesses or simply how to stay in compliance with state guidelines.

* Reduce the number of statutory exemptions: More than 20 percent of reviewed regulations across 22 regulatory entities were exempt from the reform process due to either separation of powers considerations or the law’s the definition of “small business.” The lack of clarity in the definition of “small business” poses a consistent challenge, and it’s one ORR recommends we tackle in the future.

* Improve accessibility to regulations: Small businesses reported needing outside professional help in order to navigate the 26,240 pages of regulation. The report aptly points out that those documents are the equivalent of 10.1 copies of War and Peace. To worsen matters, each regulatory entity utilizes a different template for writing regulations. The bottom line: We need to make this process more uniform.

* Rejoin separated regulation: Breaking down one regulation into separate regulations in the past has resulted in confusion about how to comply with basic guidelines. This must be rectified.

* Reform the audit, inspection and enforcement process: These practices have as much impact on small business as regulatory policy and need to be reviewed alongside regulatory reform.

* Promote lawmaker and small business participation in reform: Lawmakers need to be involved in this process just as much as members of the business community need provide feedback. We are only in the first stage of recommendations – there needs to be more dialogue. I would even go one step further to suggest a presentation to the General Assembly on these ORR findings and recommendations so we can put a spotlight on these issues and deliberate them effectively in future sessions.

* Support improved cost-benefit analysis: The state is always concerned with data quality, and we want to strive to ensure these entities can accurately quantify basic regulatory statistics.

* Push regulatory reform efforts beyond current performance levels: Of the 179 regulations identified by entities and ORR as having a small business impact, 26 were offered for amendment and repeal. We can do better. As we move forward with rigorous review, ORR will challenge our departments to find more areas of reform. A large part of our economic environment is dependent upon how quickly this state can turn around and streamline these processes for small businesses. 

Some of these are simple fixes. Others may take more time, and I would ask Rhode Islanders to continue to be patient with us as we during this period of reform. Rhode Island is predominantly a state of small businesses, and thus there are an overwhelming number of stakeholders involved. This is something we need to keep in mind as we compare ourselves to other states and search for alternative policies. I am not afraid to lead the charge against these challenges, but I cannot do it without the continued help of those who share this vision for change. Only then will we become a small business-friendly state.

(Representative Serpa is the Democratic State Representative from District 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwcik, and is chairwoman of the House Committee on Small Business and a member of the Small Business Association of New England.)​

Op-Ed By

By Rep. Patricia A. Serpa


Created at 1/20/2014 7:18 AM by spadmin
Last modified at 1/20/2014 7:18 AM by spadmin