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Purdue issues rules about new rules

RALEIGH — Gov. Beverly Perdue issued some new rules the other day about making rules.

Apparently, there are too many rules in state government. So she’s made some new rules to stop all that.

To ensure that any new rules are worthy, they’ll have to meet certain standards. Those standards, by the way, could also be called rules.

By the way, if you haven’t figured it out by now, government is all about creating rules. Sometimes, the rules are called laws. Sometimes they are called rules. Sometimes they are called standards, or qualifications or measures.

People actually form governments to create rules. Those rules are designed to protect us from one another. A few hundred years ago, some pretty smart guys collectively referred to as the Enlightenment philosophers referred to this kind of thing as the “social contract.”

Perdue, though, has decided we need some protection from the rules.

She recently issued an executive order instructing state agencies under her authority to avoid making unnecessary rules. She’s also going to embark on a review plan to get rid of current rules that don’t make sense.

The governor has the power to curb rules (power established in a set of rules call the state constitution) because the executive branch of state government is charged with filling in the details of laws passed by the legislature. The executive branch accomplishes the task with rules, explaining how the law is to be carried out.

Sometimes those affected by the rules complain. Sometimes the complaints are justified. Sometimes they aren’t.

Power companies and energy suppliers don’t always like clean-air rules. Beachfront property owners don’t always like sea wall rules. Restaurant owners don’t like restaurant-inspection rules.

But in each of those cases, the rules are intended to keep us safe, or keep us from having to foot the bill for someone else’s foolishness.

That’s not to suggest that agencies don’t occasionally pass some silly rules.

But every year at the legislature, a battle ensues over some group that believes an executive branch rule is unfair, unduly harsh or was never intended by the law. State legislators can remedy the situation with a more specific law.

State rules also have to gain the OK of the Rules Review Commission, created more than a decade ago by the legislature to prevent silly rules.

Perdue’s executive order instructs state agencies not to impose rules without a cost-benefit analysis. She also doesn’t want rules that place an “undue burden upon those persons or entities who must comply with the rules.”

Those words sound nice.

But dirtying the water and air is always cheaper than preventing the pollution. Putting a price tag on health and life isn’t so easy.

And if someone’s irresponsible behavior threatens my family’s health, or the value of my property, I could care less if getting them to act more responsibly is considered an undue burden.

There’s a social contract to uphold.

Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.

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