Proposed Reforms on NH Laws & Regulations on NH Businesses
by Fred Kocher, NHHTC President
NH used to be the number one destination for business and job growth in New England. One of the reasons cited for NH’s fall from that perch has been the regulatory climate in the state. With that in mind, the last session of the NH Legislature created the Commission to Study Business Regulations in NH in two key areas: 1) labor and workforce; 2) environmental and construction/permitting. The Commission’s task is to review state laws and regulations on businesses and make recommendations to the NH Legislature for reforms.
The Commission’s membership includes representatives of a broad and varied group of NH business organizations and chambers of commerce, including NHHTC, which has a seat at the table. The Commission has met seven times since September.
The first action was to survey member businesses of each organization to get feedback on the laws and regulations of most concern. We received several hundred responses. An overriding concern is the lack of information on regulatory compliance, and the confusion that exists on the part of businesses, especially small businesses, who find themselves held accountable for labor, wage and hour, safety, unemployment and workers compensation laws and regulations – some of which they find to be confusing, vague, contradictory or impractical. In general, there was also a desire to see first-time violators of regulations be given a warning and time to make corrections, rather than an immediate fine.
The Commission’s findings with labor and workforce regulations center on two key areas of concern. One is worker classification (designation of an individual as either an employee or an independent contractor). The other is safety regulations. Both are enforced by the NH Department of Labor. Other findings include a desire for “caps” to limit the amount charged for medical services by medical providers under the Workers Compensation Law, and a desire to drop a requirement that Workers Compensation be required for employees working exclusively from home, unless there’s evidence of a clear danger. Two other topics caught the Commission’s attention. One is the need to streamline repetitive and confusing requests for information. The other is to reduce overly aggressive audits when they’re not necessary.
The Commission’s findings with environmental and construction/permitting regulations had one thing in common with the findings on labor and workforce regulations – the frustration with complex processes and onerous requirements. A key area of concern is building code adoptions and amendments with little or no consideration of economic impacts or cost/benefit analysis. There is also concern with the adoption of new editions to the statewide building code, and with city and town adoption of stricter codes than the state without a demonstration of need. Other issues include NH toxic air standards that are higher than federal standards, inflexible standards on regulation of above ground storage tanks, and the state definition of recyclable materials that are considered hazardous. Some of these issues will need further work before recommendations are made.
Of all the recommendations made by Commission members, the following will become legislation in the upcoming 2012 session of the NH Legislature, and others that require more study will be held over until the 2013 Legislature.
1. Repeal of certain safety provisions under the Workers Compensation Law that the Commission felt are burdensome and difficult to administer, especially for smaller businesses. The Commission felt such safety provisions are better required by insurance companies as a part of writing business insurance.
2. Providing for self-certification of above ground oil storage tanks up to 10,000 gallons in lieu of the requirement for a professional engineer’s stamp on spill prevention countermeasures, provided that countermeasures are filed with the NH Department of Environmental Services.
3. Providing for slightly longer three-year cycles for the adoption of new editions of the state building code.
4. Providing that local legislative bodies demonstrate need or offsetting relief to planning or governing boards prior to enacting ordinances or processes involving building codes or regulations.
5. Requiring that expired building code amendments not be re-adopted by the state Building Code Review Board within two years of their date of expiration.
6. Requiring that the state Building Code Review Board consider economic impacts on the public in its review of amendments to the state building code.
Other recommendations will require longer term work by the Commission to focus on each issue, prioritize them, and develop a set of recommendations for future action. This effort will also require an examination of the regulatory and tax incentives offered by other states to attract investment in the interest of creating jobs and economic stability.
(Portions of this article come directly from the Interim Report of the NH Commission to Study Business Regulations in New Hampshire)