OLYMPIA – Washington state agencies will stop making so many rules that affect the daily lives of citizens and businesses under an executive order issued Wednesday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
The order exempts some rules still in the making, such as those necessary for public health and safety or other critical functions, or those required by state or federal law. Rules that don’t qualify for an exemption are to be set aside until the end of 2011, with staff time that would have been spent drafting or updating rules redirected to helping businesses comply or enforcement.
“In these unprecedented economic times, this action will provide businesses with stability and predictability they need to help our state’s recovery,” Gregoire said in announcing the moratorium.
Although state agencies were having some difficulty Wednesday identifying which rules would be put on hold, conservatives applauded the measure while some progressive groups were critical.
Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said Gregoire seems to be taking up a suggestion he made back in August to put a moratorium on all nonessential rulemaking: “It will give our employers some certainty and help them focus on expanding the economy and leading us out of the current recession.”
Carl Gipson of the Washington Policy Center called the executive order a step in the right direction. With it, business owners “won’t have to watch their backs for the next 12 months.”
But members of the Mainstreet Alliance, a liberal business group, said the moratorium could be shortsighted if new rules to protect the environment are put on hold. “Freezing rules that help our community values won’t help my business grow,” said Jody Hall, owner of a Seattle bakery and a member of the alliance’s steering committee.
The potential exemptions are so broad that no one can be sure, said Eric de Place of Sightline Institute, which supports sustainable energy projects: “It’s practically impossible to figure out what the executive order will apply to and what it won’t apply to.”
Not stopped by the executive order, according to state officials, is the emergency ban on alcoholic energy drinks, which goes into effect today. Also going forward, rules for manufacturers to disclose toxic substances in toys, and a ban on the chemical BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups and refillable sports bottles set to go into effect next July.
The Ecology Department said it will continue drafting rules to report greenhouse gases, regulate air pollution and manage distribution of funds for water pollution control, all of which are required by federal or state laws. The Commerce Department won’t be affected by the order, spokeswoman Penny Thomas said, because it has already scaled back all nonessential rulemaking.
Some rules can’t be suspended, said Kathleen Drew, a policy advisor to Gregoire. For example, hunting and fishing seasons are opened and closed by agency rules based on a review of current conditions. Those will continue.