Governor puts rules on hold, raises fears

Published on

The San Francisco Chronicle

SACRAMENTO — An executive order signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger could delay the implementation of dozens of environmental and consumer protection measures and give Schwarzenegger’s political appointees unprecedented powers to rewrite regulations.

On his first day in office, Schwarzenegger ordered a six-month halt to the creation of new rules affecting hundreds of issues so he can review how they will affect California’s business climate. The order could affect everything from the state’s efforts to develop an unprecedented computer recycling program to a new law requiring hospitals to have a minimum level of nurses on duty.

Business advocates praised the move as a signal that Schwarzenegger is committed to building jobs in the state by streamlining burdensome regulations. Some lawmakers dismissed the order as simply a way for the new administration to catch up on upcoming issues.

But others charged that the new governor is already doling out favors to business contributors and trying to overturn legitimate laws passed by the Legislature and signed by former Gov. Gray Davis. They also argued that Schwarzenegger, who campaigned on an open-government and pro-environment platform, is reneging on promises made before the recall election.

“This is a page right out of George Bush’s playbook,” said Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

Schwarzenegger’s order will affect hundreds of regulations that state agencies are writing to reflect legislation or new standards. Most of the regulations are details stemming from recently enacted legislation.

For example, the California Integrated Waste Management Board will implement a landmark law carried by Sen. Byron Sher, D-Palo Alto, and signed this year by Davis that will make California the first state in the country to mandate the recycling of computers and televisions. The board was expected to create the definition that will determine which pieces of equipment will be affected by the law.

Instead, according to the order, the board will be required to submit a report to Schwarzenegger’s legal affairs secretary describing how the new law will affect California business. The board could ask Schwarzenegger’s director of finance to bypass the report, however.

Recycling advocates argue that the executive order could delay the law, which is to go into effect in July. They also note that the order could take the rule-making process out of the hands of a board that meets publicly, instead allowing agencies to create internal reports for Schwarzenegger’s top officials. It’s unclear what will happen if reports suggest a particular issue is bad for business, but some advocates worry it could lead the administration to water down regulations and effectively nullify new laws.

“This is a governor who came into office saying he was all for open government, and one of the first moves he makes out of the box is to put important health and safety issues into the hands of political appointees,” said Mark Murray, executive director of Californians Against Waste.

Margita Thompson, Schwarzenegger’s press secretary, said the executive order was “common sense, allowing us to get a lay of the land.”

Some lawmakers agreed.

“If you take over from another administration and there’s a whole lot of stuff in the hopper, you want to know what it is. It isn’t a big deal,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco.

But the order freezes hundreds of rule-making procedures, including efforts to force garbage haulers to use cleaner diesel fuel and new water-efficiency standards for washing machines that will save millions of gallons of water.

Schwarzenegger critics say the new governor is actually creating more bureaucracy and may be angling for a way to give business interests that opposed successful legislation a new avenue to win battles they couldn’t win earlier.

“This is the wish-list for every special interest that lost in the Legislature,” said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
E-mail Mark Martin at [email protected]

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