A resolution for times when regulations collide

Legislation aims to fast-track mediation in bid to cut more red tape

Jessica Perry//January 9, 2012

A resolution for times when regulations collide

Legislation aims to fast-track mediation in bid to cut more red tape

Jessica Perry//January 9, 2012

Burdensome. Redundant. Frustrating. Counterproductive.

“There are a lot of words for it,” Sen. Jeff Van Drew (D-Cape May Court House) said of the state’s regulatory process.

Van Drew is among the legislators who put the finishing touches on a bill designed to revise these regulations and ease the burden on businesses, by providing two new ways to resolve disputes between different state agencies over regulations. But environmental groups say the measure will weaken the Department of Environmental Protection and add another layer of bureaucracy, instead of cutting red tape.

Legislators were aiming to pass the bill Jan. 9, before the end of the legislative session.

The bill, S-2607 and A-2922, would allow businesses or other parties affected by regulations to petition the state Office of Administrative Law for arbitration or mediation with administrative law judges to resolve conflicts with other state regulations. In addition, the bill requires agencies to check whether planned regulations conflict with existing ones. If the agencies can’t resolve the conflict, the issue would go to arbitration or mediation.

In both cases, under the bill, if the disputes aren’t resolved through arbitration, the attorney general would have the authority to rule on the matter.

Sponsors of the bill said it is difficult for businesses and individuals to make their way past one regulatory hurdle only to be met by another. The measure has drawn broad support from the organized business lobby.

“Most businesses do not mind the regulation very often, don’t mind having to meet a standard,” Van Drew said. “What they do mind is that it’s not done in a clear and concise and final way, and that’s what we’re trying to change.”

But state Sierra Club President Jeff Tittel said the bill makes the process more complicated by adding layers of procedures.

“This bill comes out of the concept that DEP has overstepped its bounds, and the other agencies should be able to smack them back,” Tittel said.

Tittel said he would like to see Gov. Chris Christie veto the measure if it passes, saying it violates the separation of powers by giving authority that should rest with the governor to administrative law judges.

“You could wind up with an ALJ that takes positions that conflict with laws,” Tittel said.

Van Drew, though, said a governor may be too busy with other issues when the business community needs “some consistency and predictability.”

Fellow sponsor Sen. Steven V. Oroho (R-Sparta) said the bill came out of the work of the Red Tape Review Commission, of which he is a member.

“When you go to one department and you go to another department and they say something different, then there’s no way to resolve it,” Oroho said. “There has to be something that says, if there is a discrepancy between two departments, there has to be a way to resolve it.”

Oroho, a certified financial planner, said businesses make capital decisions based on the “path of least resistance,” and that the bill fits into a larger, bipartisan framework for reducing regulations and improving the business climate.

The Assembly passed its version of the measure by a 77-0 margin earlier in the session.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the bill addresses the lingering effect of regulatory delays. He noted that the state’s regulations for the licensed site remediation professional program, for instance, are being ironed out years after the law established the program.

“Anything that puts consistency in the process and sets in motion a standard” advances the interest of the business community, he said.

Van Drew said his concern about the issue is not abstract, but comes from heartfelt conversations with constituents.

“These feel like literally shooting themselves in the head. They have to go through extraordinary measures to establish themselves” as businesses, only to hit regulatory hurdles, he said.

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