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The Secretary of State’s Office on Feb. 1 released its annual assessment of the Office of Small Business Assistance (OSBA), which helps businesses with 100 or fewer employees navigate Oregon’s sometimes unwelcoming regulatory environment. The OSBA’s findings will surprise few employers and underscore the need to address underlying regulatory problems that affect all employers, large and small. OBI’s Growth and Innovation Roadmap provides guidance to that end.

The OSBA reports, among other things, that “many business owners experience significant delays when dealing with state agencies. Backlogs of work, poor response times, and delays resulted in business owners paying operating costs without being able to legally provide goods and services.”

The OSBA concludes, reasonably, that improvement is needed: “Small businesses attempting to remain compliant with state regulations deserve prompt service and clearer information about processing timeframes so that expenses and expectations can be managed appropriately.”

That’s true as far as it goes. But all businesses, not just those with 100 or fewer employees, deserve clear information, prompt service and the sort of advocacy the Office of Small Business Assistance provides. Private-sector employers provide the jobs, innovation and, directly and indirectly, the tax revenue upon which state and local government rely. Helping employers of all sizes innovate and thrive should be a priority at all levels of government.

OBI’s Growth and Innovation Roadmap contains several recommendations:

Create a Business Ombuds Office (SB44): Businesses of all sizes should have access to a resource that seeks to help them succeed. Like the recently established Office of the Taxpayer Advocate and the Office of Small Business Assistance, the Office of Business Ombuds would help Oregon businesses that struggle in good faith to understand or meet the state’s complicated regulatory requirements. The office would guide businesses toward compliance and exercise authority to waive penalties. The office would be required to submit biennial reports to the Legislature outlining the state’s most prevalent regulatory compliance challenges and offering recommendations for improvement. Go here to read OBI’s testimony in support of SB44.

Eliminate Moving-Target Permitting (SB38): Agencies must provide clear regulations, guidelines and internal management directives relevant to each permit type and should be barred from requiring permit applicants to comply with requirements that were neither in effect nor provided to the applicant at the time an application is submitted.

Ensure Rulemaking Consistency and Transparency (SB43): Agencies conducting rulemaking must adhere to consistent standards for engaging with the public and regulated entities. Processes should be transparent and easy to navigate, including initial concept, development and adoption. Bias should be removed from the process wherever possible.

Ensure Rules are Based on Necessity and Granted Authorities (SB40): Adding an “arbitrary and capricious” standard to the Administrative Procedures Act would ensure that rules are both necessary and in line with legislatively granted authorities. To establish the need for new rules, rulemaking should require a statement of need supported by technical and legal documentation. This statement should be subject to public notice, public comment and legal challenge.

Enhance Fiscal and Economic Impact Awareness (SB42): Rulemaking requires a small business impact statement, which is a good first step. However, many rules have a significant economic effect, whether that be through job loss or creation or through compliance costs passed on to consumers. Proposed rules may also carry significant ongoing costs of administration. Regulated entities, consumers, taxpayers and legislators should have a clear picture of the overall fiscal impact of proposed rules.