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Lawmaker: Small Business Bill of Rights would rein in regulators

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PHOENIX – Calling it a response to state regulators bullying small businesses, a lawmaker wants to require agencies to list owners’ rights on their websites and present them prior to any investigation.

“It educates small business as to what their rights are and how they can work with government,” said Rep. Thomas Forese, R-Gilbert.

Forese authored HB 2260, dubbed the Small Business Bill of Rights, which also would require agencies to report any complaints annually to the Arizona Ombudsman-Citizens’ Aide. That office would then report the information to the Governor’s Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, Joint Legislative Budget Committee and the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.

Forese said the change would make regulation less stressful for small business owners, who often have fewer resources to devote to fighting penalties that can result from inspections.

“It’s not that these folks at the department, you know, have horns and a forked tail and wake up in the morning thinking about how they can destroy business. It’s just the path of least resistance,” Forese said. “A large corporation will fight and a small business often times just gives in.”

The bill received a unanimous endorsement Feb. 5 from the House Commerce Committee, which Forese chairs, and was awaiting action by the full House.

Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, who voted for the bill in committee, said she wants the bill to also require more information about how consumers can file complaints. She proposed an amendment calling for that, but it didn’t pass.

“It’s also a good opportunity for the state agency to make consumers aware of what their rights are in dealing with the business,” she said.

Cory Whalin, owner of Su Vino Winery in Scottsdale, said the bill would help small business owners like himself.

“I think that anything that the legislation can do that’s going to help alleviate some of the stress that can be involved in either an audit or an investigation or any time a small business is having an encounter with a governmental agency, I think is going to be beneficial,” he said.

Ralph Heins, a real estate company owner who addressed the House Commerce Committee, said that while he supports the bill it should go even further to protect small business owners and create liability for auditors and regulators who overstep their authority.

“I think it’s inadequate,” he said. “There are no consequences in the event of bullying.”

Farrell Quinlan, Arizona director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the bill’s reporting requirements would identify trends that can help lawmakers monitor agencies.

“What’s driving this is an overall sense that we don’t have good information,” he said.

Sean Laux, chief legislative liaison for the Arizona Department of Revenue, told the Commerce Committee that his agency already has protections in place, including a bill of rights for all taxpayers and a process that includes a resolution officer to represent those under investigation.

“We’re still analyzing, you know, whether this requires us to do any additional activity as a result of our normal course of business,” he said.

Forese said his goal is supporting small business.

“I think we all agree that the way small business is treated in Arizona matters, and that’s why it’s necessary to make sure we’re getting this data and that we understand better the interactions,” Forese said.