Less than one year into his first term as Idaho governor, Brad Little has accomplished what many states and the federal government have been struggling to do for years: regulatory reform.

During a news conference Wednesday, Little said Idaho cut or simplified 75 percent of its regulatory rules this year.

Of Idaho’s 72,000 restrictions, Little said 30,936, have been eliminated.

According to a study released this fall by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the least regulated state is South Dakota with 44,000 restrictions.

Little said with Idaho cutting more than 40 percent of its restrictions this year, bringing the number down to about 41,000, Idaho has surpassed South Dakota and is now the least-regulated state in the country

“Idaho’s conservative approach to governing has truly transformed the state’s administrative code into a set of regulations that are streamlined and easier for citizens and businesses to navigate,” Little said in a news release. “When we reduce the friction on entrepreneurs and businesses, good-paying jobs follow. I appreciate the support of the Legislature and the agencies within my administration for helping me achieve the largest regulatory cuts in Idaho history.”

Gov. Brad Little’s regulatory reform

When Little took office Jan. 7, he quickly set to work on one of his pet projects: reducing Idaho’s regulatory red tape.

His first two executive orders, issued Jan. 31, were the Licensing Freedom and Red Tape Reduction acts. Both measures are aimed at reducing state regulatory burdens on Idaho residents and businesses. The licensing order calls for an overhaul of the state’s occupational licensing laws, and the red tape order requires state agencies to propose two rules for simplification or elimination for each new rule it brings forth.

Little faced an arduous, multi-year task: Idaho’s Administrative Code has grown to 736 chapters, totaling more than 8,200 pages containing 72,000 restrictions.

But in April, during the final days of the state’s legislative session, Little’s pet project got an unexpected boost thanks to dysfunction in the Idaho House of Representatives.

Each year the Idaho Legislature has two tasks it must accomplish: set a budget for the next year and re-authorize all administrative rules for another year.

Following a dispute with the Senate, the House decided to abscond from its duty to re-authorize rules and effectively put a routine “housekeeping” bill required to keep state government running for another year in a drawer without any action, meaning all existing rules would expire July 1, 2019.

The Legislature went home in April, and the all-rules-expiring-July 1 mess landed on Little’s desk. Little, his staff and state agencies took on the once-in-a-governorship opportunity to clean up and clear out outdated or unnecessary rules.

State agencies spent the summer holding public hearings on proposed rules changes and deletions. Now the Legislature must approve all those changes during the 2020 legislative session, which begins Jan. 6.

White House takes notice

Little’s efforts received praise from the White House, which is working to reduce and streamline federal regulations.

“Congratulations to Governor Brad Little and the state of Idaho for cutting and simplifying an astounding 75 percent of their administrative code,” Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russ Vought said in Little’s news release. “Since taking office, President Donald J. Trump has led historic deregulation efforts to roll back red tape that burdened Americans and stifled economic growth at the Federal level.”

The Trump Administration on Oct. 21 announced the Governors’ Initiative on Regulatory Innovation to extend the President’s regulatory reform to state and local levels.

“We are proud to report Governor Little is a champion of this effort and look forward to his partnership and leadership on protecting Americans from overregulation and administrative abuse,” Assistant to the President for Strategic Initiatives Brooke Rollins said in Little’s news release.

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