JEFFERSON CITY — Catfish pond owner Jim Baumgartner is being showcased by Republican lawmakers as an example of why small business owners need their own advocacy agency inside government itself.
At a House committee hearing Monday, Baumgartner testified that though the Department of Natural Resources has inspected his 35-foot-long dam in the past, he recently received notice that he would have to hire an outside consultant to comply with regulations — costing him anywhere from $500 to $1,200 for an initial examination of the site.
Small business owners who feel bogged down with environmental and other regulations would get relief, or at least explanation, under legislation discussed in House and Senate hearings Monday.
A board meant to make small business owners and government agencies “get together and talk,” as one supporter said, about regulations the agencies want to impose on businesses would be created under bills sponsored by Sen. Anita Yeckel, R-St. Louis, and Rep. Brian Baker, R-Belton.
Most burdensome to small business owners, said the sponsors at a news conference, are various regulations from DNR, which they say often can catch business owners unaware.
Such surprises can be costly for businesses when agencies impose new restrictions on handling hazardous material or require certification for employees, proponents of the bill said.
The legislation requires that before making new rules, agencies compile impact reports about the effects to small business owners — a process overseen by the board enacted by the bills.
If the agency doesn’t compile reports and make an effort to find out the concerns of small business owners, affected businesses can request a judicial hearing to challenge the rule.
A supporter, Rep. Kathlyn Fares, R-Webster Groves, underscored the importance of the board to business owners in her district.
“We are small business owners, tiny business owners,” she said, describing some as “hanging on by their fingernails” when faced with potentially costly compliance with regulations. “We need something that helps small businesses stay in business.”
Although DNR was the focus of much of the business owners’ frustration, no representative from the department testified at either the House or Senate hearings.
Opposing the legislation in the House hearing was Karla Klein of the Sierra Club, who said she was concerned about provisions allowing first-time violations of agency regulations to go unpunished if business owners plead ignorance.
Businesses would be more likely to pay attention to regulations if they knew fines might be imposed the first time, she said.
The bill was vetoed last year by Gov. Bob Holden over concerns about the judicial hearing process and the makeup of the board.
Both Democrat and Republican legislators are working to address any possible concerns the governor may have with the bill.