A bipartisan collection of state senators is pushing to revive a panel dedicated to helping the public — and especially business owners — clear a path through what they say are overly burdensome government regulations.
Steve Oroho, the Morris County Republican, and Bergen Democrat Paul Sarlo are co-sponsoring S-4125, a bill creating the “Government Efficiency and Regulatory Review Commission.” And the state’s top lawmaker, Senate President Steve Sweeney, is also on board with the concept.
It’s all music to the ears of Tom Olsen of Lodi, who says his company is imperiled by the actions of state regulators.
“I am caught in the middle of red tape, regulation,” said Olsen, at an event Wednesday sponsored by the Morris County Chamber of Commerce where state lawmakers discussed the idea of recreating a panel to review regulations.
In 2010, Gov. Chris Christie impaneled the so-called Red Tape Review Commission by executive order. It inspired changes in several laws and regulations, but also drew criticism for its perceived bias toward business interests, often at the expense of the environment.
Gov. Phil Murphy let the commission elapse — to the chagrin of business owners.
Olsen’s company makes rain tanks that hold live clams for sale at local supermarkets, including several in New Jersey. But he says inspectors here want to yank his tanks over health regulations and test requirements, even though the same salt-water systems are keeping clams cool in New York, Connecticut and several other states where regulators have approved them.
Looking for governor’s cooperation
“I’m being pingpong-balled back and forth,” Olsen said. “And I’m advocating on behalf of my biggest customer, who right now is telling me, ‘We can’t use these systems because the state has shut them down. You need to take them back.”
Sweeney, who was among the lawmakers in Whippany on Wednesday, endorsed the effort, and committed to getting input that could be incorporated into legislation. He said he hoped for cooperation from the governor’s office.
“Hopefully the administration will work with us on this, because we want them to work with us,” he said, adding that he also planned to “reach out to the Assembly too.”
The Democrat from Gloucester County, who has frequently sparred with the governor, also said he would impanel an ad hoc legislative committee dedicated to the effort, which would not require a gubernatorial signoff.
“I’m just going to appoint a committee, rather than wait for legislation to go through,” he said.
The governor’s office released a statement Wednesday afternoon. “Governor Murphy is strongly committed to making government work more efficiently,” it said. “In fact, that goal is one of the four central tenets of his economic plan. Just this week, the governor unveiled the Business First Stop Portal as an initial effort toward this goal.”
‘They tie you up in knots’
The bipartisan effort also received a thumbs-up from Christine Myers of the federal Small Business Administration.
“Regulations exhaust small businesses,” said Myers, a former Morris County freeholder who in early 2018 was named the agency’s advocate for small businesses in the region. “They tie you up in knots. They make people give up their opportunity to have a small business. So it is imperative that this be successful, and that this gets the voice of small business owners on that committee.”
Oroho also said he hoped for cooperation from the Murphy administration, which would allow the appropriate departments of state government to more quickly make changes.
State Sen. Linda Greenstein also said she heard business owners concerns Wednesday.
“It turns out that cutting red tape, or whatever you want to call it, was definitely a top priority,” said the Democrat, whose district spans Mercer and Middlesex counties. “So I’m really glad to see this commission getting started. We can use all of your ideas, at all times.”
Olsen said the issue for him is a matter of survival.
“If I have to take back this equipment, it’s a $60,000 refund check that’s literally going to put me out of business,” he said. “And I’m going to lock my door, and 14 people are going to be unemployed.”