Regulations have been a big topic over the past several years. Politicians, trying to make a public name, have been pushing for the reduction of regulations. They like to claim that these regulations are an impediment to economic growth and entry into certain professions. While some of this may have merit, one needs to “not throw out the baby with the bath water.”   

The most common approach being pushed by these elected representatives is what I call the “machete” approach: The establishment of a percentage reduction without any regard to what impact this may have on public health, safety or welfare. It is, in my judgment, a complete disregard of their oath to serve and protect the public.

Before we discuss the merits of regulations, let us define the term. According to the Cornell Law School, a regulation is an official rule. In the government, certain administrative agencies have a narrow authority to control conduct within their areas of responsibility. These agencies have been delegated legislative power to create and apply the rules, or regulations. Merriam-Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary uses a much shorter definition: An authoritative rule dealing with details or procedures.  These rules or orders are issued by an executive authority or regulatory agency of a government and have the force of law.

Given that our economic system is built on the “free market,” those in a position of economic power do not like or desire any form of control or regulation. This is contrary to their single focus on profit and growth without any constraints. If we all had the same vision, moral and ethical views, and held the public interest above all as part of the “free market,” then maybe regulations would not be a necessary part of the government and society. However, as we all know or at least should recognize, our perceptions and views of a particular position do not always agree. This is why society needs statesmen and arbitrators to intercede and make an effort to provide a level playing field. In this way, everyone has a reasonable potential for achieving success while serving the better good of society.

Regulations come in many forms: Environmental regulations, labor laws, health and safety regulations, codes, standards and the list can go on. However, all of these regulations, rules, codes, standards, etc., are grounded in providing a so-called level playing field, while serving the better good of society by providing fair treatment and protecting the public health, safety and welfare. They are really there for the betterment of the free market, in that everyone has the same opportunities without any single person or group having control.

In a humane society, everyone should have equal opportunity. Some will do better than others, but all should be secure in having equal opportunity and the rights expected of such a society. No single entity or group should be able to control or dictate to those who might be less fortunate. After all, we are really the same, living human beings, which are trying to provide for our families and hopefully offer a better world to our descendants. Everyone should have a reasonable level of living standards, basic health care and be treated with respect to assure that the limited time we have on this planet is meaningful and rewarding. I realize that this column does necessarily stray into the political arena, which is essential in reviewing the subject at hand.  

OK, I will give you that there are many regulations that may have outlived their intended purpose and may need to be modified, revised or eliminated. But that needs to be accomplished in an orderly and logical process. The use of arbitrary percentages or bean counting is not the appropriate path. 

As I stated, regulations are intended to level the playing field for the betterment of society. This means that each and every regulation should be developed with a specific intent in mind that can be documented to provide for the betterment of society. Regulations need to be reviewed and evaluated on a regular basis to assure they are achieving the intended results. And when a regulation has served its intended purpose, by correcting the problem or behavior, it should be eliminated. If the problem or behavior has not been eliminated or corrected, then the regulation needs to be revised, modified or replaced, so that the intended result can be achieved.  

Yes, excess regulations should be eliminated, but only when they go through a due-diligence process to determine that they no longer serve the intended purpose and that the specific issue they addressed has been corrected. No politician should ever try to eliminate any rules or regulations without due process and having done their due diligence to determine the purpose of the rule/regulations as well as to determine if it is still needed or might be in need of revision, modification or replacement.  After all, these politicians were elected to a position of authority as leaders. Then behave like leaders and do their jobs in advancing and protecting society, not the special interests and lobbyists!

Some rules and regulations are different; in the case of building codes, the underlying laws that authorize the development of these rules are without much input from the political world. Today, most building codes are developed through a “model code” concept, in which a model code developer develops a set of codes, which are then adopted by state and local jurisdictions. 

While there are several model code developers, the two predominant ones are the IAPMO (International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials) and the ICC (International Code Council). IAPMO’s process follows the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) process, while the ICC uses a process that they call the “Governmental Consensus Process.” Both organizations attempt to develop their codes through a consensus process; meaning that they seek input from all stakeholders. This allows for diverse thoughts and perspectives to be used in the development of the codes. Both seem to be providing for the public good and have been generally acceptable to the public and governmental entities.

My concern lies with these differing approaches: The ANSI versus Governmental consensus processes. The ANSI process mandates that no one person or stakeholder shall have control over the process.  While it is desirable to have the make-up of the technical committee diverse, avoiding dominance by any single person or stakeholder is not always possible because of the need for technical expertise. However, the final decision-makers must have a diverse make-up to ensure no single person or stakeholder has dominance in the process. While the Governmental process, used by ICC, practices the ANSI process in the development of the code, it leaves the final determination to a single stakeholder, Governmental members. This group of stakeholders is made up of agency heads, code officials (Authority Having Jurisdiction), building officials, inspectors, plan examiners and public health officials; meaning that not all stakeholders have input into the final decision on the text of the codes.  This, in my judgment, is neither democratic nor in the public’s best interest.

Regardless of which model codes your jurisdiction has chosen to use, they both serve the public good, using science and engineering as the basis for their development. However, the idea behind the ANSI consensus process is to assure that no vested interest can control the outcome. The outcome should be based on the consensus of the stakeholders without concern that some stakeholders could be holding an advantage. This is not the case with the Governmental process, which leaves the perception of a potential conflict of interest, regardless of how well-meaning these governmental members might be — their position as employees brings up questions.

Well, at least these codes go through and continuing review process. Codes are continually reviewed and generally updated on a 3-year cycle. And as concerns or new information becomes available, interim revisions and modifications can be made.

Codes are not like many other governmental regulations or rules, which once established, may stay on the books for years without review, revision, modification or elimination when no longer needed.  Codes are living documents that continue to include new technologies, means and methods, and adapt to the ever-changing list of materials, as well as societal needs. While no one really likes change, it is important that these documents continually attempt to remain current and viable.

It is nice to see that at least some regulations/rules (codes in our case) serve the better good in protecting public health, safety and welfare. Maybe the politicians should do a better job in drafting legislation to assure that all regulations and rules go through periodic review. These reviews could reduce regulations by ensuring current rules and regulations are serving a specific purpose and that purpose is, in fact, being addressed. If the regulation or rule has accomplished its purpose, then it is no longer needed and can be eliminated. If the regulation or rule has not yet accomplished its intended purpose; then they need to look at why not, how can it be revised, modified or replaced with a better regulation or rule to achieve the intended purpose. 

Regulations and rules are not the problem. It is the administration and oversight of these regulations and rules that are the problem. Anything that has been placed “on the books” needs to be periodically reviewed. It is incumbent on the administrators to ensure only needed regulations and rules remain in place. It is also incumbent on the politicians to work within the system to make this happen.  But, when these politicians choose to pass arbitrary dictates to cut regulations and rules, they are not exercising the authority granted to them by their constituents. They need to do their due diligence in protecting public health, safety and welfare. 

Just some thoughts on the process and where the drive to reduce regulations and rules needs to go — minimize in a logical manner without potential knee-jerk reactions to solve the problem.