Lt. Gov. Jon Husted is in charge of the CSI — Common Sense Initiative — to make Ohio more business friendly but “they got caught up in the bureaucracy trying to cut the bureaucracy.”
In 2011, then-Gov. John Kasich’s administration sought to make Ohio business-friendly by slashing state bureaucracy and streamlining business regulations.
Eight years later, the aptly named the Common Sense Initiative is itself backlogged.
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, who now runs CSI, noted the irony of a government agency created to cut through red tape that is now gumming up the works.
“I let my staff know that was unacceptable,” he said. “We are not going to tolerate delays in getting our work done.”
The backlog totaled 1,233 rules that impacted business when Husted took over. Of those, 139 rules were awaiting response from state agencies; 229 were still in the public comment period; and 865 were “just things that simply CSI hadn’t done,” Husted said at a National Federation of Independent Business meeting last month.
Backlogged rules include ones on alcohol and drug testing; health product standards; drinking water standards and water source protection; and mine safety. The oldest regulation is from 2016 and addresses massage therapy licensing and education; the majority of the clogged rules are from 2018.
Husted instructed his staff to wipe out the remaining backlog by April. As of Mar. 15, about 76 percent of the backlog had been cleared.
“The standard I’m going to have is that we’re not to fall behind. I’m trying to change the culture,” Husted said. “I’m not trying to point fingers at anybody. … What I’m trying to do is establish a standard of customer service.”
Husted’s predecessor as lieutenant governor, Mary Taylor, oversaw the initiative from its conception to the end of her term in January. Taylor, who now works with her husband’s construction firm based near Akron, did not respond to multiple requests for comment over the past month.
Senate Bill 2 of the 129th General Assembly, which set CSI’s foundation, states that after 15 business days, a rule can be submitted to the Joint Committee Agency on Rule Review pending a CSI recommendation. Normally, if a rule is business-impacting, it must be reviewed by CSI before moving to JCARR for consideration.
However, according to JCARR Executive Director Larry Wolpert, agencies were instructed not to do this by Taylor’s office, thus lengthening response times.
“Ever since the creation of the Common Sense Initiative office, it has delayed the rule-writing process. The agencies tell us that,” Wolpert said.
“The agencies tell us that there are extra steps to delay the rule-writing process by several weeks.”
Mark Hamlin, Taylor’s former chief of staff, said the 15-day clause sets a “minimum not a maximum” and does not cap CSI’s response time. Hamlin acknowledged that Taylor’s office did, with a handful of exceptions, instruct agencies not to file with JCARR until they received CSI’s recommendation.
CSI, frequently touted by Kasich as evidence of a business-friendly administration, reviewed an average of more than 2,100 rules per year during Taylor’s tenure. At the end of her term, Taylor announced her run for governor; she lost the Republican nomination to now-Gov. Mike DeWine, Husted’s boss.
In 2018, the initiative reviewed 2,195 rules — a 418-rule drop from the previous year. Despite handling fewer cases, CSI took longer on average to issue recommendation. In 2017, less than 30 percent of cases took 61 days or more to review. That number jumped 10 percentage points in 2018.
Reports suggest that 2015 was CSI’s most efficient year. Only one-fifth of cases took more than 61 days to review, whereas the majority of rules — 55 percent — took 30 days or fewer. From 2015 on, however, turnaround times only increased.
The agency’s 2018 annual report made no mention of a backlog. CSI press releases also made no indications of a lag in pace. Instead, reports cited glowing “success stories,” highlighting rules that had been reviewed — not the hundreds still stuck in the system.
CSI displayed no internal indications it was in crisis, according to Mike Flowers, a member of the Small Business Advisory Council. The SBAC acts as a bridge between small businesses and CSI, Flowers said.
“To me there were positive indications that CSI was working as the legislature intended,” he said. “To hear there is a significant backlog would be a surprise … especially because I didn’t hear it from our business community.”
Roger Geiger, Ohio executive director of the NFIB — the organization to which Husted first announced the backlog — said he has noticed varying levels of commitment and hesitancy from state agencies to adjust.
“CSI is only as good as the state agencies’ response,” he said. “In the speed of small enterprise … if the government doesn’t respond, it can gum things up.
“They got caught up in the bureaucracy trying to cut the bureaucracy.”