Kristiansen’s regulatory reform bill gets hearing, but is placed on hold

More than 14,600 pages of state agency rules and regulations exist in the Washington Administrative Code that businesses are expected to know, understand and comply with. Rep. Dan Kristiansen says although most employers make a good faith effort to comply with regulations, state agencies have become more aggressive in enforcement, imposing hefty fines against businesses that thought they were operating within the law.

Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, has introduced House Bill 1436 to prevent state agencies from retroactively imposing fines and/or sanctions against a party whose actions were initially approved by the agency, but later found to be in violation.

During a hearing today in the House State Government and Tribal Affairs Committee, Kristiansen testified about an employer in his legislative district who was heavily fined for incomplete paperwork that had been approved earlier by the agency.

“This employer was working in good faith with the agency for nearly seven years, filling out paperwork that had been approved by that agency, and was told he was compliant with the law. However, a new person at the agency took a look at the paperwork and decided it had not been filled out properly. So this employer was fined $10,000 a year for a total of $40,000 for four years of paperwork violations, even though none of the rules had been broken, but the paperwork was filled out improperly. This is an example of how we should not treat employers in our state,” said Kristiansen.

Kristiansen noted the same employer later chose to expand his operations in another state, creating up to 300 jobs there, primarily because of the regulatory red tape he fought against in Washington.

“Our regulatory environment makes it difficult to compete with other states and keep jobs. With budgets getting much tighter, there’s a huge financial incentive for Washington state agencies to get very aggressive with businesses. They can go back retroactively four years, as the law allows, and impose these hefty fines, even on something as small as a paperwork glitch. The employer must then write a check to the agency, which it can use to help to make up for its own budget cuts. In the meantime, this practice chases employers out of the state of Washington and contributes to job losses. That’s not how we should be solving our state’s budget problems,” noted Kristiansen.

Under the bill, agencies that initially approved actions by a person or employer could not come back later to impose fines on that party for those actions. The measure also allows a party to remedy the rule violations and authorizes agencies to provide technical assistance to help correct the violation.

“This measure would give assistance before enforcement. That’s the direction we should be going,” said Kristiansen. “State agencies don’t like this legislation because it removes the ability to gain revenue from employers. Employers say this is an example of some of the help they need. However, they are reluctant to testify in public because they don’t want a target painted on their backs.”

Although a hearing was granted on the bill, Kristiansen said he was told today the committee most likely would not allow the measure to move forward.

“Most likely, this bill is on hold because of state agency opposition. It’s most disappointing that employers are being forced to take a back seat to bureaucrats, especially when we have some of the highest unemployment in our state in 25 years. If we want to turn our economy around and get Washington working again, we need government to be part of the solution – not part of the problem. This legislation could have been another important component toward creating a better business climate in Washington,” said Kristiansen. “Employers need our help and I will continue working to reduce government burdens holding them back.”

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Washington State House Republican Communications