Baker administration scraps hundreds of state regulations in overhaul

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BOSTON — The Charlie Baker administration is eliminating nearly 15 percent of Massachusetts state regulations and amending at least another 40 percent in a top-to-bottom overhaul aimed at making state government more efficient and business-friendly.

The move comes a little more than a year after Baker issued a directive to all state agencies, requiring them to undertake a review of their regulations, with instructions that none should exceed federal requirements.

“It’s refreshing to see that an administration would take this task and try to address the cost-benefit in a general way,” said Frank Conte, the director of communications and manager of the State Competitiveness Project at the Beacon Hill Institute, a free market-oriented center at Suffolk University.

Most of the state’s 1,721 regulations have been reviewed at this point. Out of that total, 249 or 14.5 percent of the total, have already been scrapped or are headed for the regulatory waste bin. Another 726, or 42.2 percent, have already been or are in the process of being amended in some way. State authorities decided to retain another 561 regulations, equal to about a third of the total. And another 185 regulations are still being reviewed, according to the most recent figures, which were current as of last Friday.

The regulations covered everything from what daycare centers need to do to be licensed to state guidelines on education and transportation. Just about every conceivable state agency seems to have been affected by the process, from the Department of Children and Families to the State Police.

An administration spokesman stressed that the regulatory review process was still underway and that the final numbers could change.

Nonetheless, small government advocates seemed encouraged by the progress they have seen so far.

“Reforming regulations is hard, which is why the adoption of new regulations is rightly the subject of public debate and sometimes serious pushback. The effort is still a moving target but at this point it seems like at least 700 amendments or scheduled amendments to regulations will result from the governor’s 2015 executive order,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of the free market-based Pioneer Institute.

Stergios noted that the regulatory changes fall into two main categories. “The almost 250 rescissions of existing regulations are literally cleaning out dead wood — that is, they amounted to meaningless paper. In some cases relevant statutes were superseded by new laws, in others no relevant appropriations had been made for a decade,” he said.

He called the number of revisions proposed — at least as they now stand — “a significant yield.”

Asked for comment, an administration spokesman released this statement to the NewBostonPost: “The Baker-Polito Administration assembled a team of subject matter experts to review all executive branch regulations in order to make the Commonwealth a better place to live, work and grow a business. Members of the administration met with municipalities, businesses, and individuals at over 100 listening sessions across the state and we look forward to announcing the final results of this comprehensive review in the near future.”

The review originally had a deadline of March 31. That then got pushed back to June 30. Now, the state says the review is still ongoing, with no commitment to a fixed timeline for completion. Garrett Quinn, Communications Director of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance, declined to comment on when the process is expected to be done, referring a reporter back to the official statement that the final results would be announced in the “near future.”

Both Conte and Stergios emphasized the need for more work. Conte said the administration needs to hone in on regulations that affect the private sector. In particular, he said close attention needs to be paid to regulations on licensing, fees, and accreditations that “bar entry into the market.”

“The takeaway for the general public is this: This effort is a good start, but you can’t expect all needed regulatory fixes to get done in a single year. A similar regulatory review should be part of every administration’s agenda — and should be regular practice every four years. To be effective at governing, every incoming administration needs to be schooled in the depth and breadth of regulatory state,” Stergios added.

Contact Stephen Beale at [email protected].