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EDITORIAL: Ideology shouldn’t trump safety

January 7, 2017

At nearly the last possible moment, outgoing Gov. Mike Pence reversed course and extended rules that dictate the minimum standards builders must use for insulation, heating and air, and lighting systems in commercial buildings and apartments.

That was the right decision.

But it wasn’t clear Vice President-elect Pence was going to make it.

Just a week earlier, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Homeland Security said Pence planned to let the rules expire, an irresponsible move critics say would have let unscrupulous builders skimp on energy-related systems in a way that could have left unknowing buyers and tenants with ridiculously high utility bills and perhaps even unsafe conditions.

We don’t know exactly what Pence was thinking. We can presume his zeal for reducing government regulations was at play here. After all, Pence imposed a moratorium on all rule-making—with exceptions for health and safety regulations—when he took office four years ago.

But we don’t really know. His office declined to comment, referring questions instead to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the code. The spokesman there provided an unsatisfactory—and factually inaccurate—excuse that the code could not be renewed because two outside groups had requested changes.

Yes, those changes—if the agency decided to go along with them—could have meant a longer process for passing new standards. But it was clear then that the governor could extend the existing rules for one year while those changes were underway, which is exactly what he did on Dec. 28, three days before the energy code was to expire and to the relief of many conscientious builders, architects and developers in the construction industry.

But this was not some isolated incident caught just in time to correct.

A year ago, the Pence administration let expire the emergency rules that had been put in place after the deadly Indiana State Fair stage collapse in 2011, leaving the state vulnerable to another disaster.

One member of the State Fire Prevention and Building Safety Commission, which votes on the rule, told IBJ the Pence administration had eliminated key legal and administrative staff positions once in place to review and update codes. He called for the governor to provide the commission “with adequate staff so we can do our job.”

We’re not sure what’s scarier—that Pence would choose deregulation at the expense of Hoosiers’ safety or that he’s pared state agencies down so far that there isn’t the staff available to handle what are basic duties of government.

In general, we appreciate the conservative stance that regulations should be imposed only when there is a clear and compelling reason and always taking into consideration the burden they place on businesses and individuals. But there’s a difference between being cautious about imposing rules and being careless about the welfare of Hoosiers.

As Gov.-elect Eric Holcomb prepares to take office, we call on him to do the former. And we urge him not to become so obsessed with reducing state staffing numbers and increasing the state budget surplus that it becomes impossible for state agencies to do their jobs.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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