TALLAHASSEE — Following through on a campaign promise to eliminate "job-killing regulations," one of Gov. Rick Scott's first official acts was an executive order freezing all rules now in the works.
The order, issued Tuesday, cast a huge net over regulations making their way toward adoption. It halted hundreds of rules addressing everything from cleaning up mercury pollution in state water to allowing local governments to keep a larger share of building permit fees and requiring rigorous background checks for nursing home workers.
"We're going through, and the ones we're fine with we're allowing to go forward," Scott said at a news conference on Friday.
He declined, though, to say which, if any, have been released, saying only he is considering "the benefit to consumers versus the cost to killing jobs, so there's two sides to it."
Earlier in the week, Scott was unable to identify one rule that might be a job killer.
The bold political maneuver, though, elicited cheers from the business community.
"It's very creative on his part," said Pete Dunbar, an administrative law attorney who represents the billboard industry. "It is a major change because it is a determination that agencies just going off helter-skelter, this government is not going to permit. In that sense, from the private sector, everybody's going 'Oh thank goodness. Bureaucracy can get out of control.' "
But some rules put on hold would lower fees and lessen restrictions on businesses, both of which Scott has said are necessary to meet his goal of creating 700,000 jobs in seven years.
For example, one would lower license renewal fees paid by speech pathologists from $125 to $100. Another would lower the cost of three-year occupational licenses for slot machine operators from $3,000 to $2,000.
Another rule would allow some certified public accountants from other states to practice in Florida without first obtaining a temporary license.
The move has raised concerns about how long it will take to approve vital rules and questions about which agencies are subject to the freeze.
Already, some agencies have contacted Scott's staff to let them know their rules can't wait.
One is the Florida Lottery, which requires new rules to launch scratch-off games each month, something that's scheduled to happen next week.
"We're working with them to get approval," said Jackie Barreiros, spokeswoman for the Florida Lottery. "We don't foresee any issues with our games launching on time."
The Southwest Florida Water Management District is trying to find out if its new rules, intended to avoid sinkholes caused when farmers pump huge amounts of water to save their crops, like during the 2010 freeze, need to wait.
The district has contacted the governor's office and is waiting for a response, said spokeswoman Robyn Felix.
Scott Boyd is executive director and general counsel for the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee, which oversees most of the rules making their way to final approval.
Boyd said that the day Scott signed the executive order, the governor's new administration asked him which rules would be affected, and Boyd handed over a list of more than 700. He also met twice this week with Jerry McDaniel, budget director for former Gov. Charlie Crist, whom Scott appointed to head his newly created Office of Accountability and Regulatory Reform.
Boyd predicted that even though Scott has ordered each agency to appoint a liaison to McDaniel's office within 30 days, he will need to hire more people to review regulations.
"It's a major task to realize what the rules and amendments are doing. It's not something that can be casually done by the title of the rule," he said. "My opinion is they'll have to staff up a little bit to do this."
Curt Kiser, a Republican who represented Pinellas County in the Florida Legislature in the '70s, '80s and '90s and oversaw a review of the rulemaking process, said he believes there's a better way to rein in regulations.
"Trying to cut back on the administrative rules is a pretty good idea, but probably . . . a good in-depth review of existing rules should occur first," said Kiser, who now works as general counsel for the Public Service Commission. "The problem is some of those rules, a good share of them, help the consumers. Rules in areas like banking and insurance, those rules are designed to keep competition fair."
The PSC is not subject to Scott's executive order because the commission doesn't report directly to the governor. On Friday, Scott's office sent an e-mail to the PSC and other state offices not under his purview, asking them to voluntarily comply with his executive order.
Kiser said that's likely. "Everybody wants to give the governor a chance to set his agenda," he said.
The PSC may discuss the issue when members meet next week.
"We're trying to see what kind of difficulties there might be if we tried to comply," said Kiser.
Among the PSC rules pending: one regarding fees for water, wastewater and other utilities, and another limiting communication allowed between commission staff and the businesses they regulate.
Kiser believes the proliferation of rules would be better controlled if lawmakers preceded each new legislative session by reviewing rules that state agencies developed as a result of bills passed in the previous session.
"If they had more of that going on we wouldn't have the problems with the rules that some people think we have," Kiser said.
Each year, state lawmakers pass 200 to 300 bills. Acting on those bills often requires new rules for state agencies. After the rules are disseminated for public review, they go to agency heads for approval and finally to the secretary of state for filing. In a single year, there may be as many as 2,000 steps taken to create, revise or eliminate rules as a result of bills passed in previous years, Boyd said.
"There are three times as many new rules as there are new pieces of legislation each year," said Adam Babington, vice president of governmental affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "In light of the economic situation, we really need to call a time out and see what the agencies are working on, what regulations they are looking to impose on the private sector, and which ones we can do more effectively so they don't overburden businesses."
Janet Zink can be reached at email@example.com or (850) 224-7263.