Public safety, health rules face extinction

sfretwell@thestate.comFebruary 24, 2014 

Scores of regulations that protect public safety and health, as well as the environment, are in jeopardy because of a bill that sailed quietly through the S.C. House of Representatives last week.

An amendment to a judicial ethics bill says many regulations should expire five years from the date they become effective – meaning the rules would disappear right away since a majority are more than five years old, several lawmakers said Monday.

“We’d have regulations that would expire immediately,’’ said Sen. Larry Martin, R-Pickens.

Martin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary committee, sponsored the original bill on ethics for administrative law judges, but he doesn’t like the amendment. He said the amendment is too broad and too legally suspect to include in his original bill.

Martin said he’ll try to send the matter back to the Judiciary Committee when the bill goes to the Senate for debate as early as Tuesday.

It wasn’t clear late Monday how the amendment was explained to the House last week. The lower chamber voted 108-0 for the bill with the amendment, records show.

The S.C. Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation and the Department of Health and Environmental Control have expressed reservations about the bill. More than 100 sets of regulations, including rules overseeing air pollution and garbage dumping, could be affected at DHEC alone.

Lobbyists for conservation groups said the amendment was the work of business interests and appears to be an all-out-attack on environmental, health and safety regulations. Many business groups are leery of regulations, saying the rules are too much of a burden and drive up costs for companies.

“This is really a shortsighted’’ amendment, said Rep. James Smith, a Richland Democrat who said the bill slipped through the House.

Otis Rawl, president of the state Chamber of Commerce, said his group supports the amendment offered by Rep. Todd Atwater, R-Lexington.

“We would support it, the way it is written,’’ Rawl said. “It will force us to go back and work hard to keep the regulations we believe are good ones, but let the bad ones go.’’

But Martin and Smith said wiping out large blocks of regulations in one sweep would take away vital protections.

“There are regulations dealing with the transportation of radioactive waste, and we don’t want those to expire,’’ Martin said. “There are all kinds of regulations that have been promulgated and adopted over the years.’’

Such rules usually are adopted to provide specific guidance to state agencies and are based on laws the Legislature has passed. The Legislature signs off on regulations to make sure the rules comply with the intent of laws.

Smith, who said the bill slipped through the House without much notice, said the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation was particularly concerned about the bill. The LLR oversees an array of rules and licenses many people who provide public services, such as well drillers and real estate professionals.

Smith said the amendment probably would hurt more businesses than it helps. Scrapping regulations would create more uncertainty, he said.

“This would undermine the efficiency of government and undermine businesses and growth opportunities,’’ Smith said.

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