So much for Republican leaders' promises to streamline government. With little debate and based on misleading rhetoric, the Florida Legislature unanimously approved House Bill 1565 last month, contending it would combat government regulation that threatened small businesses' ability to rebound from the recession. But that was a masquerade. This bad bill is really just a lobbyist employment act aimed at bringing government to a standstill by neutering state agencies' ability to enforce environmental and other laws. Gov. Charlie Crist should veto this bill in the name of good government.
At issue is the arcane Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how state agencies write rules to implement laws the Legislature has passed. HB 1565 would amend the APA to require agencies to assign a private sector compliance cost for any proposed rule. If that cost exceeded $1 million over five years, the agency couldn't adopt the rule. Instead it would have to ask the Legislature to ratify the rule at the next annual session.
This is nothing short of a special interest and lobbying corps end run that may well run afoul of the state's constitutional separation of powers. The $1 million threshold in a state of 18.5 million people is comical. It would force dozens, if not hundreds, of issues back to the Legislature each year, where the sheer volume of legislation considered in a 60-day session favors the status quo. Lobbyists would just have to make sure the bill never gets to a final floor vote to stave off any regulation, ultimately neutering an agency's authority.
Clearly this bill was designed to cripple the state's environmental protection agencies, including water management districts. Charged with making sure development and industry don't overwhelm the state's natural resources, they're poised to update stormwater standards to comply with federal water quality laws. Polluters, having lost in court, now are looking for a new way to avoid paying for what they dump in Florida's public waterways.
But this bill will also strangle government across the board, including all sorts of rules expected to be written in the next few months. Lawmakers, rightly alarmed by news reports that violent felons were caring for vulnerable citizens, ordered tougher background checks for nursing home and day care workers. But under HB 1565, implementation would be delayed at least a year.
HB 1565 would also likely stall desperately needed regulation of pain management clinics, where some unscrupulous players are fueling the state's escalating prescription drug abuse problem.
The bill's sponsors, Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, and Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, sold HB 1565 to their colleagues claiming it would protect small businesses from being overrun by costly regulation. Of course, agencies should consider economic impact as they write rules. But this bill goes too far. The special interest being served isn't small business, but the big money players who would rather pay lobbyists to influence the Legislature to kill future rules than run their businesses by the rules that are in all Floridians' interest. Crist needs to veto HB 1565.