This guest column was published in Building Insight, published by the Building Industry Association of Washington, in May 2016.

By Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick

Small businesses are the engine of growth, and ultimately, it is small business entrepreneurs and other employers who will create the jobs Washington’s economy so desperately needs.

State government also has a role in job creation: To partner with employers, and not be their biggest obstacle.

To move closer to that objective, I inserted language into this year’s budget agreement which directs the Department of Commerce to create a regulatory roadmap for the construction industry. No other industry was hit harder during the Great Recession, and unlike other sectors, construction hasn’t fully recovered.

A NEW ‘ROADMAP’

As part of this “roadmap” process, the state will partner with local and state agencies to improve the industry’s regulatory experience—by developing and promoting regulatory streamlining as well as best practices and tools that decrease the time, costs and uncertainty for businesses complying with local and state requirements.

The research needed to direct the plan includes group discussions, interviews, literature reviews, and surveys focused on general business concerns.

The many employers with whom I have visited share one sentiment: The high (and rising) cost and unpredictable nature of state regulations simply make operating a business too expensive.

These employers often point to:

  • A lack of clear information and standards
  • An absence of predictability and certainty
  • Confusing, duplicative, conflicting requirements
  • Difficulty anticipating and managing regulatory requirements.

My passion for wanting to support the construction industry stems from having represented several of its members during my years as a practicing attorney. Many of my clients needed legal assistance, not because they woke up one day and decided to break the law, but because the convoluted web of regulations can make it nearly impossible at times for a business to comply.

These clients were instructed by one agency to do one thing, only to have another agency say something completely different. Sometimes people within the same agency would provide conflicting advice. A clear path forward is essential.

REDUCING BURDENS ON SMALL BUSINESS

As chair of the Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee, I’m fighting to shrink government while streamlining the way it interacts with businesses. A business that has fewer regulations to deal with has more time and resources to expend elsewhere. That translates into a reinvestment in the business (i.e. creating jobs) and putting more people to work. That’s been my top priority from day one.

In recent years, lawmakers have taken steps to provide regulatory relief. Among them:

— Senate Bill 5923 (2015), a measure I sponsored, promotes economic recovery in the construction industry by directing local jurisdictions to offer impact fee deferrals for the first 20 residential building permits per builder per jurisdiction.

— House Bill 1403 (2013), which used language identical to my Senate Bill 5680, promotes economic development by reforming the Business Licensing Service. The BLS registers businesses, renews licenses and provides related services for approximately 40,000 businesses monthly. This measure required 13 more agencies to provide all their licenses online through the BLS website.

— Senate Bill 6045/House Bill 2192, known as the Transparency in Permitting Act (2014), requires state agencies to track the time to process business-permit applications and provide access to more information online. In doing so, the measure will create transparency and certainty for businesses and accountability for agencies.

These ideas and others identified through the roadmap process will help state government serve businesses better. That means making it easier, more predictable and less costly to do business in Washington by reducing the burdens our employers face from over regulation; streamlining the process for permitting; and providing certainty for those starting or expanding a business.

Here’s a novel concept in this day and age: Let’s create an environment where businesses can thrive!

Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, represents the 8th Legislative District and chairs the Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee.