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Capital Chatter: Who heaps regs on businesses?

State agency heads point the finger at the Legislature, but the rules don't always match the law's intent.

During the final session of the 2018 Governor's Marketplace Conference, several participants complained that state agencies constantly heap more regulations on businesses.

The response from agency heads: It's the Legislature that creates regulations, not agencies.

Theoretically, that often is true. However, agencies have tremendous influence on what laws the Legislature does or does not pass. Agencies then have immense power, because they write the administrative rules that define how those laws will operate.

Administrative rules don't always match legislative intent. Sometimes, as happened this year with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the Legislature has to pass a new bill to order the agency what to do.

Thus, the business folk at the Marketplace Conference were raising a legitimate issue. The Legislature could do a lot to make Oregon an easier place to conduct business without compromising safety, the environment, consumer protections or employee rights. My suggestions:

First, for every bill, require a plain-English statement of its intent. New administrative rules would have to match that intent.

Second, take a lesson from the Legislature's successful work on transportation and create a permanent Joint Committee on Regulation Review. Make it truly bipartisan by including equal numbers of Democratic and Republican legislators. Give the committee the mandate, staff and deadlines to:

— Streamline Oregon's variances with federal regulations.

One example is family leave. The federal and Oregon governments calculate eligibility and use of family leave differently, forcing employers to interpret two sets of laws and track two sets of similar but different data for employees. The state could simplify that by using the federal definitions as the base, then adding Oregon's additional requirements. Employers then would have one overall, inclusive law to follow and one data set to track.

— Streamline more paperwork among agencies and put it all online.

Like the Common Application used by many U.S. colleges, applicants would complete one main form, plus any additional information requested by specific agencies.

— Identify state bureaus, agencies, councils, boards, task forces and other entities for elimination.

This is a politically perilous task – some stakeholders will be miffed about losing power. But it is of paramount importance. Every institution has a lifecycle.

— Help create as system for reviewing, revising and discontinuing administrative rules.

Like the above suggestion, this is tedious, time-consuming work. But any responsible institution — business, nonprofit or government — does this. The world is changing at the fastest pace in human history; institutions must either keep up or die of irrelevance.

Businesspeople in the Legislature: An underlying problem is that Democrats control the Oregon Legislature and most statewide offices, but few have extensive experience in retail, manufacturing, agriculture or similar businesses. There are big differences between operating those types of businesses and being in business as a lawyer, lobbyist or consultant.

By the way, you can look up each legislator's occupation in the Oregon Blue Book or read their legislative biographies at OregonLegislature.gov.

No security on the cheap: Secretary of State Dennis Richardson has dumped the idea of training a staff member as security aide. His newsletter this week was titled, "Bodyguards for the Secretary of State … Not On My Watch!"

As I wrote last week, bodyguards for the secretary of state and other statewide officials might be an idea whose time has come. The governor has around-the-clock security provided by the Oregon State Police Dignitary Protection Unit.

But it sounds as of the secretary of state's staff — and/or Richardson — wanted low-cost security expertise. He wrote in his newsletter that his staff had "envisioned certifying an existing staff member with online security training that would cost a few hundred dollars at most."

Really.

If that were the case, it shouldn't have needed the blessing of the state ethics commission, as his staff sought. It also wouldn't have accomplished much. True security professionals, such as certified law enforcement officers who protect the Oregon governor and other U.S. dignitaries, undergo months of training before entering the field. They also have year-round training to expand their skills and keep them sharp.

Richardson said future secretaries of state might not be as cost-conscious as he is: "Although I might spend a few hundred dollars for situational awareness training, future holders of this office could be empowered to provide taxpayer-funded bodyguard and chauffeur services. Therefore, I am unwilling to set a precedent that could be abused by a future Secretary who does not prioritize fiscal responsibility like I do. Based on the above concerns, if taxpayer-funded security for the Secretary of State were offered, I would not accept."

Driving, working and thinking: Richardson said an assistant generally travels with him on state business, and they split the driving. That makes sense. I hope whoever drives remembers that talking while driving – whether in person or over a hands-free cell phone – is as dangerous as other forms of distracted driving. That is according to research published in the February edition of the scholarly journal Human Factors.

Richardson also said in his newsletter: "In order to increase efficiency when others are driving, I use my laptop, cell phone, and other mobile devices to maximize my time and value to Oregon taxpayers. I expect Secretary of State staffers to do the same when they are not driving."

That is not always the best use of taxpayer dollars. Research suggests we are more effective when we regularly have downtime — allowing our minds to wander, ponder and subconsciously solve problems.

More of your tax dollars at work: One of my favorite lines from the 2018 Legislature was when state Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, asked about a budget item: "I just have a question about what the $500,000 actually is used for.

Digging up political dirt: A telephone political poll this week solicited my views of two candidates for state labor commissioner — Tualatin Mayor Lou Ogden and former Oregon House Democratic Leader Val Hoyle of Eugene. The poll appeared to test positive and negative messaging about each candidate, although I have an idea of which side was behind it.

The poll was unimpressive. The survey taker couldn't tell me what company she was working for, mispronounced "Tualatin" and mistakenly referred to Hoyle as "he" at least once.

The survey also included side issues, such as whether Gov. Kate Brown should sign or veto a controversial income tax bill passed by the Legislature. The poll misstated her options, asking whether she should "pass" or veto a bill.

The governor does not pass bills. She has three main options: Sign a bill into law, allow it to become law without her signature, or veto it. The governor also can use a line-item veto to reject part of a budget bill.

Ideological revolution?: Sen. Dennis Linthicum, R-Klamath Falls, started this week's newsletter by reciting the Second Amendment. He described the anti-gun or school-safety — depending on one's perspective — March for our Lives as part of an ideological revolution:

"It has been well over a week since the 'March for Our Lives' organizers staged an impressive protest back east. Social media antagonists and pundits are all quite impressed with what they pulled off because of the scale and the speed of its orchestration. The speakers, microphones, TV cameras, staging and bus transportation to and from the event make it obvious that this was more than a gathering pulled off by high-school students. This protest was clearly staged for the media and was not an organic grass-roots movement.

"That Washington, D.C. rally was pulled off by progressive, well-heeled elites who have captured the minds of young people. …"

Free ride in the House: The top two Democrats in the Oregon House are unopposed for re-election this year. Speaker Tina Kotek and Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson are among several Portland-area Democrats who drew no challengers.

Some Republicans, such as recently appointed Rep. Lynn Findley of Vale, also are unopposed.

House Republican Leader Mike McLane of Powell Butte has a Democratic opponent, Karen Rippberger of La Pine.

Drunken driving arrests: Federal and state agencies regularly provide grants for increased traffic patrols. Often the money goes for law-enforcement overtime.

During March, Oregon police agencies prioritized drunken-driving patrols. The Washington County Sheriff's Office averaged more than 2.5 DUII arrests each day. The average blood-alcohol content of DUII drivers arrested by the Beaverton Police Department was .15 percent, nearly twice the legal limit.

Busy congressman: 2nd District Rep. Greg Walden said that during Congress' two-week break, he attended 32 meetings across seven counties in Central, Eastern and Southern Oregon.

Finding common ground with government: The state Division of Financial Regulation launched its Common Ground newsletter this week.

Andrew Stolfi, the new agency administrator and state insurance commissioner, wrote, "With this first official newsletter from the Division of Financial Regulation, I want us to embrace our common ground and focus on how we can all work together to make Oregon a great place for consumers and businesses to thrive."

Before taking the Oregon job, Stolfi worked for six years in Switzerland at the International Association of Insurance Supervisors.

Dick Hughes, who writes the weekly Capital Chatter column, has been covering the Oregon political scene since 1976. Contact him at TheHughesisms@Gmail.com, Hughesisms.com/Facebook, YouTube.com/c/DickHughes or @DickHughes on Twitter.