Gov. Nikki Haley directed her Cabinet agencies Tuesday to review their regulations, saying South Carolina needs to get rid of government rules that hamper businesses.
Haley signed an executive order that creates an 11-member task force to review regulations and make recommendations on which ones to throw out or alter. It also requires her 16 Cabinet agencies to report their suggestions to the task force by mid-May.
The Republican governor can't mandate other state agencies do the same, but she's encouraging them to.
“We are continuing to make sure every agency in South Carolina is customer-service friendly,” she told reporters after her Cabinet meeting. “These agencies work for the taxpayer, for the businesses. If they're costing them time, they're costing them money.”
The task force has until mid-November to issue its report to the Legislature. The idea is that regulation changes will be introduced for the 2014 legislative session. Haley directed her Cabinet directors to make whatever changes they could on their own.
The director of the state Chamber of Commerce said the initiative sounds like a good idea.
Otis Rawl said environmental permits give his members the most concern, because the process can drag on indefinitely. Business owners want a timely decision, so they can decide whether to end a project or take it elsewhere if necessary, he said.
“We've got to fix the system where permits can get through the process without delays,” Rawl said.
While the Department of Health and Environment Control is not a Cabinet agency, Haley appointed all of its board members, and she plans to discuss the directive with DHEC officials.
DHEC director Catherine Templeton, who took the agency's helm last year, said she supports the governor's order and is working to change DHEC's historically slow action. That includes launching an online site next month, dubbed “permitting central,” which will chart the process and provide links to documents for filling out.
“It's an online, fabulous, walk-you-through what you need,” Templeton said.
Haley said she doesn't want agencies to compromise safety: “Our goal is always safety.”
The founder of the Coastal Conservation League called her choice of words peculiar.
“DHEC's goal is not safety per se but to ensure our environment's not compromised, from human health to maintaining healthy wildlife populations,” said Dana Beach, adding he's withholding judgment until he sees the list of appointees.
Beach, who hopes to be put on the panel, said he agrees the regulatory process could be more efficient.
“To the extent that things could be done to raise that level of efficiency and also improve environmental outcomes, then more power to this committee,” he said, adding that its success will also depend on funding. “In order to run these programs smoothly and efficiently, there has to be enough money to hire the staff to do it. You can't have three people responsible for something it takes six people to do.”
Haley first announced her plans to create a regulatory review task force in her State of the State address last month. The not-yet-created panel is to be made up of four legislative appointees and seven appointed by Haley: four business leaders, and one representative each from DHEC, the health care industry and conservationists. Haley will name who will head it.
The task force is separate from the ongoing work of the Small Business Regulatory Review Committee, an 11-member panel of business owners created in 2004 and housed in the Commerce Department.
Haley also wants to change how regulations take effect.
Currently, agencies must submit proposed regulations to legislators for review – a step that follows the public hearing process. If the Legislature takes no action within 120 days – not the 180 days Haley referenced – the regulation takes effect automatically. Legislators could otherwise vote to kill the regulation or send it back to the agency for tweaking.
Haley contends too many regulations slip through without a thorough review by legislators.
“That's a scary thing for government,” Haley said. “Regulations can be the most costly thing to a business. Regulations are just as important as bills.”
A bill introduced in the House last month would require the Legislature to approve regulations. Similar bills passed by that chamber have died in the Senate.
The director of the Department of Social Services said she goes through the regulatory process only when the federal government requires it. That final step of legislative review is unlike other states, where regulations are an administrative function, said Lillian Koller, who came to South Carolina from Hawaii.
“I avoid it like the plague. … That slows things down,” she said, adding she instead makes policies and procedures to cover how things operate within the agency.