State Politics

Gov. Little touts new superpower: red-tape reform for 72,000 Idaho restrictions

Brad Little gives Inaugural Address as the 33rd Governor of Idaho

Brad Little has been sworn in as the 33rd Governor of Idaho. Little highlighted a few of his goals for his administration during his nine-minute Inaugural Address, including: education, the economy and restoring Idahoans' faith in state government.
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Brad Little has been sworn in as the 33rd Governor of Idaho. Little highlighted a few of his goals for his administration during his nine-minute Inaugural Address, including: education, the economy and restoring Idahoans' faith in state government.

When Gov. Brad Little took office six months ago, he quickly set to work on one of his pet projects: reducing Idaho’s regulatory red tape.

His first two executive orders, issued Jan. 31, were the Licensing Freedom and Red Tape Reduction acts. Both measures are aimed at reducing state regulatory burdens on Idaho residents and businesses. The licensing order calls for an overhaul of the state’s occupational licensing laws and the red tape order requires state agencies to propose two rules for simplification or elimination for each new rule it brings forth.

Little faced an arduous, multi-year task: Idaho’s Administrative Code has grown to 736 chapters, totaling more than 8,200 pages and containing more than 72,000 restrictions.

But in April, during the final days of the state’s legislative session, Little got an unexpected gift thanks to dysfunction in the Idaho House of Representatives.

Each year the Idaho Legislature has two tasks it must accomplish: set a budget for the next year and re-authorize all administrative rules for another year.

Following a dispute with the Senate, the House decided to abscond from its duty to re-authorize rules and effectively put a routine “housekeeping” bill required to keep state government running for another year in a drawer without any action, meaning all existing rules would expire on July 1, 2019.

At the time, Little was not pleased. As the Legislature was packing up and vacating Boise for the rest of the year, the new governor and his staff had to find a way to keep the state running.

“I did not ask for this and did not want this,” Little said in an April 23 news release. “However, I will use all authority I have to ensure our state government continues to operate smoothly and the administrative rules remain in effect without interruption.”

Little and his administration rallied and on June 19, after holding 40 public hearings on all rules to be removed, changed or re-authorized, the governor announced all rules set to expire July 1 due to legislative inaction had been republished and the state was back on track. And in the process, they had cut or simplified 40 percent of Idaho’s administrative rules.

“This is not work that they had on their dance card for the months of April, May and June,” Little said, referring to state agencies and his new staff who had to quickly go through all the rules and hold public hearings to get the rules reauthorized.

Once the task was completed, “We had a little ceremony where I gave scissors to some of the agencies,” that cut the most, Little said during a news conference on Friday. “Those hard-working, longtime Idaho agency people did a lot of very hard work. They should be credited for it.”

Among some of the antiquated or useless rules cut:

Athletic Commission requirement that female boxers, kick-boxers and martial artists have “two uniforms in contrasting colors” and that required each combatant to be “clean and present a tidy appearance.”

Tax Commission requirement that anyone who purchases illegal drugs pay an “illegal drug tax.” After 25 years, they “determined that illegal drug users don’t pay the tax, only stamp collectors.”

An entire chapter devoted to non-native phytophagous snails.

Now Idaho and its rapid regulatory reform are the talk of the nation among government regulatory wonks.

Little said White House, federal and state government officials “came up to us and said, ‘What is happening in Idaho? We are hearing about all the rules.’ And I am more than a little proud about that.”

Bolstered by the rapid, albeit labor-intensive, results, Little said Friday he wants to cut even more. By the end of the year, he hopes to see a total reduction of 55% to 60% all state regulations, including significant streamlining of Idaho occupational licensing rules.

Idaho Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, joined Little at the news conference.

Bedke said the House and Senate and have had “very productive conversations” on how it will improve the rules review process, including the possibility of conducting a comprehensive review of all rules every five years.

Bedke also hinted at the Legislature taking on another Herculean task.

“Maybe we ought to go through a lot of our statutory code with this same eye and simplify and reduce that,” he said.

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Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.