Striking the Right Balance With State and Local Business Regulations

Downtown Denver.

Downtown Denver. shutterstock

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Colorado's outgoing governor and a beer company co-founder offer some thoughts on what it takes.

Outgoing two-term Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper reflected Tuesday on efforts by his administration to cut regulatory burdens for businesses in the state, while also seeking to maintain adequate protections for the public and the environment.

“You need some level of regulation in the world,” he acknowledged during an event in Denver held by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

But after taking office as governor, Hickenlooper says his administration worked with state agencies to scrutinize about 24,000 rules and regulations, eliminating or simplifying nearly 11,000. He says transparency was a key element in this effort.

“Once you begin to get trust between the regulated and the regulators, you can get compromises,” he said.

Hickenlooper, a geologist turned craft beer brewer, began his political career with a successful run for mayor of Denver in 2003, and continued it when he was elected governor in 2010. He’s seen as a potential contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

One compromise he described had to do with gases such as methane escaping into the air from oil and gas production facilities.

Environmental groups sought regulations to crack down on this. Hickenlooper recounted how his administration brought both environmental advocates and the industry to the table to come up with a new set of rules to address the issue.

Both sides walked away from discussions at different points, the governor said. And neither side was entirely happy with the final regulatory update, but he says it will help the environment.

“It was a little bit like the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, I mean there was no trust,” Hickenlooper said.

“The government role was really to be the convener and bring people together and create a safe space where everyone felt that they were getting a fair shake,” he added.

Joining Hickenlooper was Kim Jordan, co-founder of New Belgium Brewing Co., who described how her company has had to navigate federal and local regulations over the years.

She said New Belgium recently reopened a remodeled brewpub in San Francisco on the same day there were transit disruptions. “The city was total gridlock,” Jordan said.

Amid the jam-ups, a city health inspector needed to make it to the pub to do an inspection so it could open that night. By around 5 p.m., as Jordan tells it, staff were anxious that if the inspector didn’t make it to the site soon, it would likely have to stay closed through the weekend.

They offered to pay for an Uber ride, but the inspector said she would not be allowed to accept it under the circumstances. But she then agreed to have someone from the company pick her up and drive her to the pub. At about six o’clock she did the inspection.

“She didn’t have to do that, but she did,” Jordan said. She added that, in her view, it is crucial for business and government to understand each others’ perspectives on rules and regulations.

Hickenlooper says in recent weeks he was involved in a “bootcamp” for about 17 incoming governors from around the U.S.

He said one of the ideas he’s been vocal about is that governors should have a chief operating officer, as opposed to only a chief of staff. This, he said, allows for the chief of staff to focus on areas like working with state legislators, while the chief operating officer can concentrate on other issues, such as regulatory overhauls.

Gov.-elect Jared Polis, a Democrat who has represented Colorado in the U.S. House since 2009, is set to take office on Jan. 8. Term limits prevented Hickenlooper from seeking another term this year.

Offering another example of her company’s interactions with local regulators, Jordan said that one of the reasons that New Belgium decided to expand into Asheville, North Carolina was the local government’s flexible approach to certain regulatory issues.

One specific instance, she said, involved the brewers’ interest in installing bio-swales and rain gardens to manage water runoff.

“We have been places where they say, ‘No, no, no, sidewalk, curb and gutter,’” Jordan said. “Asheville said ‘That’s really interesting, we think it would be great to do a project with you to try this so we can see, is this part of our land use code, or development code, going forward.’”

“That’s the kind of thing that businesses want to hear,” she added.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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