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W.Va. Legislature should cap regulations, think tank researchers advise

By PHIL KABLER

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Working from the premise that regulations hinder the economy, researchers from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University on Monday encouraged legislators to consider setting caps on the number of regulations state agencies can impose.

“There’s increasing academic evidence that regulation, especially federal regulation, can be a drag on economic growth,” Mercatus Center research fellow James Broughel told members of two legislative interim committees Monday.

Broughel said he is in the process of quantifying levels of regulation in all 50 states.

By scanning state regulations to key on words such as “must” and “shall,” Broughel said he determined that West Virginia has 125,700 regulatory restrictions.

“In terms of restrictions, you’re in the middle of the pack of the 18 states we’ve studied so far,” he said.

Agencies with the highest number of regulations, he said, are the departments of Health and Education, and the Public Service Commission, while the most-regulated industries are utilities, health care services, mining and manufacturing.

Delegate Scott Brewer, D-Mason, questioned whether the center’s process of scanning state regulations to find words mandating actions is an overly simplistic way to determine if the state is over-regulated.

“How do you differentiate between good regulations and bad?” he asked, suggesting the state would want to retain regulations such as, “you shall not smoke in a hospital,” or “you shall not pass a school bus carrying school children.”

In response, Broughel suggested that capping regulations would give agencies the opportunity to determine which regulations are absolutely necessary and which can be eliminated.

According to the Center for Media and Democracy’s SourceWatch, the Mercatus Center was founded and is largely funded by the Koch Family Foundations, with Charles and David Koch described as key funders of right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network.

According to SourceWatch, the Mercatus Center has engaged in campaigns involving deregulation, especially environmental deregulation.

Also during legislative interim meetings Monday:

Members of the Joint Committee on Judiciary discussed possible options to rein in state Supreme Court spending without violating the state Constitution, which prohibits the Legislature from decreasing the court’s annual budget requests.

“Can’t the Legislature go in and say what the Supreme Court cannot do?” asked Delegate Charlotte Lane, R-Kanawha, suggesting the Legislature should have the authority to set limits on court purchases, and to determine if the court has authority to lease its own warehouses.

Likewise, Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, pointed out that budgetary actions by the Supreme Court can have ramifications on executive branch agencies. As an example, he said that if the court cuts spending for drug courts statewide, that action will ultimately increase costs for State Police, regional jails and the Division of Corrections.

House Judiciary counsel Brian Casto noted that the governor and Legislature have in the past mandated additional duties for the court system, and said the court is bound by various requirements in state law, such as the recently repealed prevailing wage law for state-funded construction projects.

“I’m not sure at what point a directive to the court would be interpreted as being too intrusive to its budget process,” he said of the discussion of setting spending limits on court purchases.

Casto said that, based on precedent, Supreme Court justices would not necessarily have to recuse themselves if a case challenging any legislative restrictions on the court’s budget came before the court.

The discussion was prompted by recent news reports of seemingly extravagant spending on renovations of justices’ offices at the Capitol, as well as reports that the court provides state-funded computers, electronics and furnishings for the justices to maintain home offices.

Reach Phil Kabler at [email protected], 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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