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Regulatory Reform: Improvement or Impediment?
Phil Mendelson
February 1998





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dropcwhi.jpg (1376 bytes)ouncilmembers such as Harold Brazil continue to win the spin game characterizing the pending Omnibus Business Regulatory Reform Act of 1998 as real "reform." The 97-page bill, however, is puff.

Much of the bill calls for study, not reform. Issues like health regulation, zoning, and street vending are dealt with by establishing new task forces to prepare new recommendations. We don't need more study; by now the recommendations are well known.

The bill's largest section is not about regulatory reform at all, but about authorizing fraternal benefit societies to issue insurance. Fundamental reforms recommended by the Business Regulatory Reform Commission last summer, are ignored: (1) Consolidate all permit-approval offices together; (2) upgrade the technologically-ancient regulatory system; and (3) provide long-sought tools for improved enforcement. These reforms would make a huge difference. They would radically improve timeliness, substantially reduce errors, and protect the integrity of the regulatory system. They would also reduce the long lines at city permit counters.

Most egregious, however, is that there was no opportunity for public comment on the bill. It was a stealth bill – introduced at Thanksgiving, marked up Christmas Eve, and passed over New Year's. The Council waived several rules to do this.

There were mistakes as a result. The bill would eliminate Boards which the Chief Financial Officer says are necessary to obtain federal grants. It would permit the closing of public streets by a process which the Corporation Counsel says violates the Home Rule Act. Changes to the historic landmark process are "likely to create prolonged litigation," according to the D.C. Preservation League. Health care professionals are alarmed that the bill requires reciprocity with national accrediting associations, an untried concept. These mistakes occurred because the bill was never vetted. Harold Brazil admits that the bill is flawed. But he pushed for passage anyway because he wanted to beat the Control Board which has undertaken its own study and submits its own recommendations to Congress this week. "This is about relevancy," he said at the time.

When he learned that I, on behalf of the Committee of 100, had written the Control Board asking that the bill be sent back to the Council, Harold Brazil told the Northwest Current: that I was "Throwing the baby out with the bathwater." But flawed legislation is a mistake.

Sending the bill back to the Council would enable public scrutiny through hearings on the bill. It would also enable the Council to consider divergent recommendations with the Control Board's study and to correct the acknowledged flaws.

There is nothing wrong with this, and it would continue to involve the Council and the public, as should have been the case all along.

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