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My 6th grade teacher used to say to me, “Niello! You have two ears and one mouth, so use them in that proportion!” And as I”m deaf in one ear, I’ve always had to listen pretty closely. But as a legislative body, sadly, we do a lot of talking here in Sacramento and perhaps not enough listening. Well, fear not. Over the past few months, Senator Dave Cox and I have been hosting a series of ‘Business Regulation’ Hearings. The concept is simple, straightforward and authentic: We listen, you talk.

Recent grassroots movements have been based on the people’s insistence that their concerns, their stories, and their issues be addressed.  In this vein, local business-owners have shown up to give their two cents about the impact that state regulations are having on their ability to do business in this state to Senator Cox and me, along with local elected officials.  What could be more grassroots than that?

Having served in the State Assembly for five years and been a local businessman myself, I have some idea as to the heavy burden regulation places on the backs of these engine-drivers of our economy.  But let me say, the stories of burdens we have heard ranged from absurd to heartbreaking. 

Too often, a law or new regulation is seen in isolation a temporal discomfort to be adjusted to and dealt with.  But the reality is that outside of the capitol dome, these things add up.  The effect is cumulative.  They add up to the point where business owners aren’t able to just run their business.  They must literally moonlight as regulatory compliance officers. 

Sure, some bigger businesses can afford to employ someone full-time to ensure compliance, but small businesses cannot, and so they must perform these tasks in-house.  And every hour, every dollar they spend doing this, is an hour and a dollar less they have to create another job or invest in the community and, ultimately, less tax revenue for the state.   

Currently, I am working on new legislation to bring forward in this year’s legislative session that will address some of the issues that have come as a result of the testimony during these hearings.

On a basic level, there were several eye-opening truths that came from these hearings.  First, there is a need for more representation of the small business community on key state boards and commissions.  Beyond the question of whether or not to actually approve a given regulation is the ‘how’ of the matter.  One of the complaints voiced over and over was ‘ok fine, we get it—there are going to be regulations.  But can they at least be workable for those of us who have to comply?’  Greater representation by small business members on boards such as the California Air Resources Board ought to be a step in the right direction.  Senator Cox and I will be introducing a bill to do this in the upcoming legislative session.

Along the same lines, I am also introducing a bill to require that regulations meeting a certain threshold be returned to the legislature for approval/review prior to implementation.  It is important, again, that the ‘spirit’ of whatever the legislature intends when it passes a law is reflected in the final product of the regulation, and that affected groups are given due time to voice their relevant questions and concerns.  We can’t continue to leave the regulatory approval process up to unelected and unaccountable appointees.

As we all know, small business is the business of California, comprising the vast majority of the businesses of this state and providing the lion’s share of jobs. Burdensome regulations are crippling them, and any legislator who doubts it need only hold a few of these hearings in their own district. I suspect they’ll find what I have—at a time when there is much talk about ‘creating jobs’ and ‘fixing the economy’, we might remember that sometimes the best remedy is to listen to the people, and then get out of their way.