Rules freeze might cause confusion

November 8, 2011  |  No Comments  |  by Barney Bishop  |  News

Miami Herald – January 5, 2011

Can an off-road vehicle have two seats in Florida? Should pain clinics get safety reviews every year or every three years? And may produce stands avoid extra fees to get a permit for setting up shop in the Southwest Florida Water Management District?

For Florida businesses, answers to questions big and small (but mostly small) will likely be delayed under Gov. Rick Scott’s order freezing new rules coming out of Tallahassee.

The Executive Order No. 11-01 commands agencies under Scott’s direction to “immediately suspend all rulemaking” until a new watchdog can screen the proposed regulations.

The dramatic decree — the former CEO’s first official order as governor — echoes Scott’s campaign pledge to make Florida a business-friendly state.

But the actual impact will be felt in the reams of regulatory minutia that agencies propose almost daily — a stream of pending changes that Scott has declared frozen.

“It’s almost impossible for one person to track what the agencies are generating,” said Adam Babington, vice president of governmental affairs for the Florida Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a prudent move by a new administration to say: `Let’s have a time out.’ ”

Scott’s press office declined interviews about the move and how it would be implemented. But the order itself gives some clues, establishing an Office of Fiscal Accountability and Regulatory Reform, to be headed by outgoing Budget Director Jerry McDaniel. That office is charged with reviewing all proposed and existing rules in the state, and Scott instructed agencies to submit new rules to the office before enacting them.

That could involve a Herculean amount of paperwork. The state website agencies use to notify the public of proposed rules,, lists hundreds of pending changes for the month of December alone.

Among them: changing the state definition of off-road vehicles to include all-terrain vehicles with two seats; moving state “quality assurance reviews” of pain clinics from every 12 months to every 36 months, and exempting minor structures from Water Management District permiting rules.

Business groups said they did not expect Scott’s order to have a dramatic impact, mainly because the Florida Legislature enacted an anti-regulatory law in November.

Passed over then-Gov. Charlie Crist’s veto, the new law requires legislative approval for any regulation deemed to cost more than $200,000 a year.

With that legislation in place, business lobbying groups couldn’t pinpoint Tuesday any pending rules that were of grave concern.

But they cheered Scott’s move as a sign of things to come.

“To be honest, I’m not so much concerned about the ones that are in play right now,” said Barney Bishop, CEO of the Associated Industries of Florida, a leading business trade group. “I’m more concerned about the ones that already exist.”

Added Lance deHaven-Smith, a public policy professor at Florida State University: “The big issue is going to be rolling back.”

Two of the biggest questions hanging over the governor’s decree: How many proposed rules will actually be held up by the screening process and how long will it take to get them approved?

Health officials said rules on regulating “pill mills” could have to wait a year unless the regulations get sent to lawmakers by Feb. 4, the Sun Sentinel reported Tuesday.

Robert Fifer, head of audiology for the University of Miami School of Medicine, had hoped Florida would enact new Medicaid rules by the spring that would make it easier for speech pathologists to get reimbursed for treating children.

He said the current rules force some families to cut off treatment after only three sessions. For the past year, he’s been working with a state speech-therapy association to get the rules changed. “I’m hoping it’s weeks away,” he said.

Of Scott’s order, Fifer added: “That wording is very broad. It may affect us.”

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