State Ready To Cut Red Tape
(5/10/2010) (from hartfordbusiness.com)
By Greg Bordonaro
In possibly the biggest legislative victory for businesses this session, state lawmakers passed sweeping regulatory reform that aims to streamline the permitting process across state agencies.
The bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Gov. M. Jodi Rell, received bipartisan support and is intended help spur economic development by cutting bureaucratic red tape that slows projects.
“This shows that Connecticut will be more business friendly,” said Bill Ethier, the CEO of the Home Builders Association of Connecticut. “It sends a good message to the entire business community here and across the country.”
Ethier said the bill will be especially helpful to home builders who are required to get multiple permits for developments from various state agencies, a process that can be both time consuming and burdensome.
The legislation creates an Office of Permit Ombudsman within the Department of Economic and Community Development to work with Connecticut companies seeking permits from the state departments of Environmental Protection, Public Health and Transportation.
The ombudsman will expedite the review of permit applications for major development projects that create at least 100 jobs or develop a green technology business, among other criteria.
The bill also requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to examine all of its permitting processes and report to the governor by September on recommendations for reducing its time periods for permit reviews.
In particular, DEP will be required to make all reasonable efforts to review initial permit applications for problems within 60 days and make final determinations within 180 days.
The DEP commissioner can also continue any general permit beyond its expiration.
“This is ground breaking legislation for this chamber,” said Rep. Jeffrey Berger, a Democrat from Waterbury, who is co-chair of the commerce committee. “It will reform and improve Connecticut’s regulatory climate to make the state a more attractive place for business to invest and create jobs.”
As part of their economic development strategies, both Democrats and Republicans said they wanted to streamline the permitting process and remove or alter regulations that are duplicative, outdated, or in some cases overbearing to businesses.
The legislation received far reaching support from all stakeholders. The DEP and environmentalists, along with business and labor interests, all gave their blessing to the measure, saying it will improve efficiency without compromising environmental quality.
“This bill strikes a good balance between reducing governmental regulation while maintaining a solid commitment to the environment,” said Sen. Edward Meyer, the Democratic chairman of the environment committee from Guilford. “These changes send a clear message that Connecticut is open for business but that it will not sacrifice its natural surroundings and its quality of life in the process.”
In February, Rell started a task force to examine the permitting process and recommend ways to cut through red tape and eliminate backlogs. The task force provided a report late last month that served as a basis for the bill lawmakers eventually passed.
“One of the biggest complaints the construction and business community has ever had has been the slow, sometimes agonizing process of getting state permits,” Rell said. “In one sense, we are improving procedures and eliminating needless, time-consuming duplication — but in a broader, more important sense, this is really a jobs package.”
Lawmakers were particularly interested in streamlining processes and regulations in the DEP, an agency advocates have said is among the least business friendly.
When the Connecticut Business & Industry Association recently polled 984 business owners, 68 percent of respondents said that if they were to expand or relocate their business, they would do so outside of Connecticut. Taxes and regulatory issues were key factors in their gripes with the state, the survey found.
Eric Brown, a lobbyist for the CBIA, said the bill’s passage represents a first step in improving Connecticut’s business climate. “I think it will very quickly trigger activity within and outside the DEP designed to accomplish the overall goals of the bill,” Brown said.
Rep. Pamela Sawyer, a Republican from Bolton, praised the bill’s passage, but also noted it’s only a starting point to bringing more jobs and businesses to Connecticut.
Other components of the bill include:
• Streamlining the process in which the DEP commissioner’s tentative determination to issue a permit can be challenged;
• Establishing a new “consulting services program” within the DEP, modeled after the Connecticut OSHA program for non-adversarial on-site compliance assistance;
• Requiring that the statewide standards that form the basis of water permitting be adopted as regulations, which will put them under scrutiny by the legislature’s Regulatory Review Committee;
• Eliminating unnecessary or duplicative public hearings, thereby reducing the time for businesses to obtain wastewater discharge and other permits from DEP.
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