California -- naturally -- showing way in deregulation

New government regulations cut back by more than half. Thousands of old regulations reviewed, and streamlined or tossed out. Bureaucrats warned to write clearly -- or else.

While President Reagan has made a start on regulatory reform in Washington, the state he once governed is well into a program of weeding out unnecessary rules and paper work.

Just over 10 months ago, California became the first state in the nation to establish an executive branch office to to review all government regulations -- 30,000 pages worth, in this state's case, created by 123 state agencies over nearly four decades.

In the first nine months of its existence, the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) has cut the approval of new government regulations by 54 percent -- compared with the same period one year earlier -- from 719 regulations to 331. And it has set the guidelines for a two-year public review and overhaul of the thousands of regulations that now make up the state's Administrative Code.

Created under the Administrative Procedure Act passed by the state Legislature in 1979, OAL has already attracted the attention of Reagan deputies in the Office of Management and Budget who are charged with implementing federal regulatory reform, according to Gene Livingston, director of the state office.

"The state agencies went up the wall when the bill was introduced," says Mr. Livingston of the bureaucratic battle waged against the legislation, which eventually passed both houses with almost unanimous bipartisan support. "In the past, new regulations would just be adopted. Now we're asking, 'Do we really need this?'"

"The most significant change brought about," he continues, "is that the burden of proof in adopting a regulation has been shifted from the public to the agency. Before the public had to prove why (a proposed regulation) wasn't necessary. Today the agency has to prove why it is."

Under the 1979 act, OAL must consider five standards in reviewing all proposed or existing regulations: necessity -- should government be involved?; authority -- is the agency authorized to propose the regulation in question?; consistency -- is it consistent with existing law?; clarity -- is it written so it can be easily understood?; reference -- is an accurate reference to a specific statute or court decision included?

Although OAL has enjoyed a large measure of across-the-board approval from business organizations and consumer unions, newspapers and politicians, in its early work, the office has crossed regulatory swords with a handful of bureaucrats. For example:

In turning down a regulation proposed by the state Athletic Commission that dealt with a pension plan for boxers, OAL questioned the clarity of the regulation and the commission's authority to pass such regulation. In a written response, the Athletic Commission charged the OAL with impudence, and warned it would seek judicial clarification of the office's decisions on a case by case basis. After lenghty negotiations, however, a compromise was reached, and OAL approved the rewritten regulation.

One disgruntled ex-bureaucrat has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutional authority of OAL to function with the broad powers outlined in the legislation which established the office. The suit, which is still in its early stages was filed by an former member of the California Horseracing Board, who sat on the board when a complicated regulation involving the administration of medication to horses was rejected by the OAL.

Although OAL's decisions have prompted only three appeals to Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., who has in each case upheld OAL, director Livingston warns that as his office cuts deeper into the bureaucratic bulge, there is likely to be more resistance to OAL's work.

One sensitive area, he predicts, will include revision of regulations which he claims are designed not to hamper business, but to protect it. As an example of such protections, he cites California's 40 agricultural boards, which set size and quality standards for produce -- at the consumer's expense, he claims.

"Let me tell you something about Republicans, business, and regulations," Livingston says. "A tremendous portion of the regulations on the books ar e there to benefit business."

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