Deregulation moves forward

Filemon Aguilera, a foreman, watches workers picking watermelon on a farm along Arizona 95 in Yuma. Shelly Tunis of the Yuma Fruit and Vegetable Association said state regulation helps protect food safety and ensures disease outbreaks can be traced to their source.

Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times 2015

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey has won at least a preliminary victory in his bid to cut state regulations, despite testimony from some business representatives that ending oversight will endanger public safety.

On a 5-3 vote Wednesday, the House Commerce Committee agreed to end state licensure of geologists, landscape architects, assayers, fruit and vegetable packers and those who operate free-standing crematories.

And just for good measure, Rep. Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, added language to deregulate courses that teach people how to become yoga instructors.

HB 2613 is the first step in plans announced by Ducey during his State of the State address last month to not only curb state regulations but to scrap some state oversight.

“Arizona requires licenses for too many jobs, resulting in a maze of bureaucracy for small-business people looking to earn an honest living,” the governor said.

“Believe it or not, the state of Arizona actually licenses talent agents,” he said. “Let’s leave the job of finding new talent to (“The Voice” hosts) Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani, not state government.”

Gubernatorial lobbyist Rene Guillen pointed to those comments Wednesday when he spoke to lawmakers in support of the measure.

“Licensing should be the last option, not the first,” he said.

“We should periodically review the status quo and see if current regulations reach the proper balance of employment opportunity and government oversight,” Guillen said. “Reducing regulations means more money for hard-working Arizonans.”

The legislation, crafted by the governor’s office, deals with fields where practitioners said ending state oversight will endanger public safety.

So extensive was the testimony that even Petersen conceded the legislation will not become law in the form it cleared the committee. He said it will require extensive changes to get the necessary votes.

Guillen conceded as much, saying that regulation is not “an on-off switch.”

“Government regulation is a dial and licensure is really turning it up to 11,” he told lawmakers.

Guillen said Ducey is willing to work with the professions to “dial that back down to find the right level” of government oversight “while alleviating regulatory burdens on the industry.”

There was no testimony in favor of the measure from any industry that hires these professionals. Instead, those who are regulated detailed why lawmakers should not go down that path.

Stephen Noel, a registered geologist, said these are “technical, scientific disciplines” that require qualified people to perform the tasks. Even state agencies that hire geologists, like the Department of Environmental Quality, require they be state certified, he said.

Petersen said a third of states do not regulate geologists. Noel’s response was, “They have problems.”

Shelly Tunis of the Yuma Fruit and Vegetable Association said state regulation helps protect food safety. She said regulation of firms that hire people to pick produce requires that they train their workers and ensures that if there is a disease outbreak it can be traced to a source.

Even when groups did not claim public safety concerns, they urged lawmakers to consider the implications of what the measure would do.

For example, Robert Shuler, who lobbies for the American Society of Landscape Architects, said eliminating state licensing would place Arizonans at a competitive disadvantage.

He said that without state licensing, landscape architects would not be able to compete for contracts in other states. Yet anyone from other states could compete for contracts here.

“I believe in competition but it needs to be fair and equal,” he said.

Significant changes are expected by the time HB 2613 reaches the House floor.

Of the list of professions that would be deregulated, only the yoga teachers were in support of removing state oversight.