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The Left Discovers a Truth About Regulation

Jul. 19th, 2013
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RALEIGH — The General Assembly has generated plenty of publicity while debating a bill that would affect abortion clinics in North Carolina. Senate Bill 353: “Health and Safety Law Changes,” would (among other things) increase state oversight and regulation of abortion clinics by requiring the physical presence of a physician in the room when an abortion is performed and by having the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services write rules applying to abortion clinics that would be guided by the agency’s standards for ambulatory surgical centers.

The proposed regulations have produced an epiphany among the political left in North Carolina. Increasing state regulations harms the regulated industry by making it harder and more expensive to conduct its business.

In response, the left has discovered a nascent, this-issue-only libertarianism with respect to regulating abortion clinics.

The News & Observer reported that “Opponents say the bill could force abortion clinics in North Carolina to close because they won’t be able to afford costly upgrades.”

The newspaper’s editorial board put it this way: “It’s a bill masquerading as an effort to provide safer health care for women while its intent is to make the safety requirements so onerous that almost all abortion clinics would have to close or spend heavily to meet the standards similar to those for outpatient surgery centers.”

The News & Record quotes Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, who said the bill “does nothing to create jobs.”

Suzanne Buckley, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina, called the bill a “sneak attack” and said, “It’s just clear that they’re looking to restrict access to abortion, and they don’t care how they do it.”

One would almost find this welcome suspicion of government regulation from the usual cheerleaders of big government encouraging — but for the fact that the outrage is so highly centered around the single issue of abortion, which is of particular importance to the left. Abortion is no doubt the priority here, as opposed to vociferously pushing the state to adopt a more laissez-faire stance to regulation.

Otherwise, why have there been no protests about North Carolina regulators trying to force the closure of, or restrict access to, outpatient surgery centers?

Yes, regulation imposes significant economic costs. What can be done?

That government regulation imposes real costs on citizens and businesses, hindering commerce, stifling job creation, and perpetuating other ills has been long known. As I wrote in my chapter on “The Next Steps on Regulatory Reform” in the John Locke Foundation’s book First in Freedom:

[S]uch concerns are as old as the very founding of the nation to which the State of North Carolina belongs. Two of the charges laid against King George III in the Declaration of Independence were that “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance” and that “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.”

JLF has long warned about the real, significant costs of overregulation. Our polls of state business leaders consistently found that the state’s regulatory burden ranked very high as a factor reducing the state’s competitiveness. We have highlighted many ways to free North Carolina from those burdens, including


Meanwhile, are periodic review and more reforms at hand?

The General Assembly of late has begun taking the issue of regulatory reform seriously, passing the Regulatory Reform Acts of 2011 and 2012. Through S.B. 112, “Create Jobs Through Regulatory Reform,” and H.B. 74, “Periodic Review and Examination of Rules,” combined most recently into an omnibus regulatory reform measure, lawmakers would make numerous changes, chief among them being periodic review.

This concept is discussed on pages 4 and 5 of my report on sunset laws and periodic review. A key feature of the bill’s proposed three-step process would require controversial rules that agencies nevertheless consider necessary to go through the rules adoption process as if they were new rules.

The omnibus bill contains many reforms. Other noteworthy features include studying occupational licensing boards, repealing a rule that imposes California regulatory standards upon heavy-duty vehicles leased or registered in North Carolina, streamlining the rulemaking process, allowing general public disclosure of the fluid compounds used in hydraulic fracturing fluid without the state taking ownership of or compromising proprietary compounds designated as trade secrets, and combining the Division of Water Quality and the Division of Water Resources into a single agency to be called the Division of Water Resources.

The business of regulatory reform is usually not a hot-button topic, nor are regulations’ effects usually visible. But as I noted in the report linked above, “Reducing regulation allows more time to be spent instead on productive activities, encouraging more entrepreneurship, more job opportunities, and more economic growth — which in turn means government collecting more revenue in a more vibrant economy.”

The Monday sideshow may have temporarily swerved into the truth about regulation. Their targets in the General Assembly, however, are the ones poised to make more lasting improvements in the area of regulatory reform.

Jon Sanders (@jonpsanders) is Director of Regulatory Studies for the John Locke Foundation.