Serpa: This year RI needs results on eliminating red tape

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The office tasked with cutting down on Rhode Island’s red tape and streamlining regulations is now facing scrutiny from lawmakers.

Thursday night, the House Oversight Committee will meet at the state house, and they’ll grill the Office of Regulatory Reform. The hearing will review what work has been accomplished since the inception of the Office of Regulatory Reform eight years ago.

Rhode Island has plenty of red tape in the form of fees, regulations and licensing requirements. In fact, a study by the Institute for Justice says Rhode Island has the 10th most burdensome regulations in the country.

Eyewitness News been tracking business owners’ complaints about red tape for years. We’ve heard from workers in several professions, from barbers to HVAC workers who are required to go through years of training.

When it comes to eliminating the red tape ensnaring many local business, state representative Patricia Serpa says, “This has to be the year for results.”

Serpa is the chairwoman of the state’s House Oversight Committee. She says she wants to dive into the paperwork to see if years of state promises to reduce regulations have come true.

“We need to see them really make this a priority, a sense of urgency,” Serpa said. “And I’m kind of not getting that feel.”

We asked Governor Gina Raimondo’s administration if they’ve had success peeling away the tape. Liz Tanner, director of the Department of Business Regulation, referred to the task as a balancing act.

“It’s really important to listen to what business owners have to say, and see if there’s some healthy compromise,” Tanner said.

Tanner said the department has tackled nuisances. For example, you can now order a mimosa if you go out to brunch on a Sunday in Rhode Island. That wasn’t the case as recently as a few years ago, because of a regulation that didn’t allow restaurants to sell alcohol before noon on Sundays.

According to Tanner, sometimes the department doesn’t necessarily need to repeal a regulation, but simply streamline it.

“There’s an effort underway to go through every single regulation in the state,” Tanner said.

Over the last few years, Tanner said the state has eliminated some 3,800 pages of regulations. A chart from the Office of Regulatory Reform shows they’ve removed 48 regulations, each comprised of several pages, from the books since July.

“We pulled together a list and we’ve been kind of hacking away at them one by one,” said Tanner of the repeal process.

Tanner also says the office has worked with cities and towns across the state to try to make permitting available online, saving time and money.

Serpa said she’s still frustrated that it’s taken this long to start seeing results, and wants to see more progress this year.

“We’re trying to get this economy going,” said Serpa. “People are paying good tax money for these offices, for these professionals, so they need to get their money’s worth.”

Serpa says she will keep an open mind hearing into the oversight committee meeting on Thursday night.

Anyone who wants to see which regulations have been cut can find the details from the Office of Regulatory Reform website.