Both houses of the legislature overwhelmingly voted yesterday to overhaul the state’s regulatory process by streamlining the way government agencies adopt regulations and hand out permits to major developers.
In approving a package of bills, the Democratic-controlled Assembly gave bipartisan endorsement to Gov. Chris Christie’s Red Tape Review Group, which has sought to improve New Jersey’s business climate.
The Senate also passed the package of bills, including one to speed up permitting for major economic development projects.
The bills are part of the legislature’s Back to Work NJ job creation and economic development initiative. They were opposed by the Sierra Club of New Jersey and New Jersey Environmental Lobby, which argued the bill’s undermine rules dealing with protecting the environment and natural resources.
The package was pushed by Assemblyman John Burzichelli , a Gloucester County Democrat who served on the governor’s red tape review panel and is chairman of the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee. Most of the bills came out of that panel, which was created to help implement legislation to streamline burdensome business regulations.
"New Jeseyans have been waiting for too long for us to find a way to reduce the mountains of regulation affecting their daily lives, while still honoring our responsibility to protect the environment and citizens," Burzichelli said. "The Assembly has already taken steps to ease burdensome regulations, and these bills will help us get even more reform accomplished for the betterment of our state."
Business lobbyists hailed the passage of the package, which mostly speeds up the process of adopting rules and regulations promulgated by state agencies as well as expediting the permitting process for major developments that create jobs.
"Everyone’s on the same page," said Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Industry Council of New Jersey. "It’s all about jobs. How many years does the state want to rank in the bottom 10 when it comes to business climate."
Mike Egenton, a senior vice president for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, noted the business community has been pushing for some of the changes spelled out in the bills since the terms of former Gov. Christie Whitman.
"Anything the state can help tighten up the process and streamline the red tape has to help," Egenton said. He noted many of his members used to spend a lot of valuable time commenting on proposed rules, only to see the process drawn out.
One of the bills in the package (A-2720) would deal with that issue by allowing agencies to adopt rules, even if making substantial changes, after public comment. Currently, if the proposed rule changes are deemed substantive, the agency has to repropose the rule and hold new public hearings on the measure, a time-consuming process often criticized by lobbyists.
Another bill (A-2853) would streamline the process by which the state issues economic development permits. "Businesses devoted to economic development and creating jobs that benefit this state shouldn’t have to run an obstacle course to get the permits they need," said Burzichelli.
But Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club of New Jersey, blasted Democrats for passing the package of bills. "It shows the only thing green about this legislature is the money they get from special interests," he said. He called the passage of the package a "sellout of not only the environment, but the public’s right to have input on laws and rules that affect them."