One of the striking elements of the government’s response to the pandemic has been its willingness—at all levels—to waive rules and regulations to help companies, organizations and even individuals adjust to and cope with the crisis.
For as much as government has been chided in some business circles for shutting down the economy—and that certainly has happened—officials have in other ways worked quickly to clear the path for business to innovate and adjust.
Some of the changes have been aimed at health-related protections; others are tied more closely to commerce and, of course, many are some combination.
Here are just a few of many examples.
The Trump administration suspended rules dealing with the amount of time truck drivers could be on the road without stopping for sleep, a nod to the need to get supplies like toilet paper and sanitizer delivered as quickly as possible.
Gov. Eric Holcomb waived rules to allow more restaurants to sell takeout alcohol, an attempt to help eateries survive his order that banned in-house dining.
And just this week, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett waived rules—or in some cases sped up approvals—to allow restaurants to take over sidewalks for al fresco dining, which is the only type of service they are (for now) allowed to offer.
Hogsett—in his streaming press conference to announce the outdoor dining changes—acknowledged the significance of what he called “fast-track permitting.”
“Under normal circumstances, the process to obtain approval for temporary outdoor seating is complicated, and it stretches across multiple layers of state and local government,” Hogsett said. “Anyone who has undergone this permitting knows that this does not happen overnight.”
But he said city officials “recognize that these are not normal circumstances. And for businesses that have waited months to open up, we don’t think they should have to wait any longer than absolutely necessary.”
And Hogsett said his administration was working with state officials to “clear as many obstacles as we can” for restaurants to get rolling again.
Of course, that raises questions about why something like outdoor seating for a restaurant is so complicated to begin with. Why does it need to stretch across multiple layers of state and local government?
That’s somewhat rhetorical. There are, we acknowledge, issues about right-of-way, alcohol permits and safety concerns to consider. Just as there are reasons—good ones—that truckers aren’t allowed to drive for as long as they want without breaks and that the carryout alcohol is regulated.
The question as our communities return to something akin to normal is whether all of the regulations that have been waived must go back to the way they were. Already, the Trump administration is planning to review rules with the goal of eliminating many.
We applaud the effort. But the exercise should be done judiciously, always balancing the need for businesses to operate with the safety of customers, workers and the larger community. That thoughtful conversation is one good outcome that could arise from the pandemic.•
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