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Andy Webb, owner of Captain Boom Fireworks LLC in Otsego, Michigan, says he plans to hire more salespeople this season after the state decriminalized items such as bottle rockets and Roman candles.
Led by Republican administrations such as those in Michigan and Florida, states are relaxing restrictions or considering regulatory relief on things from motorcycle helmets, firearms and tanning beds to bunny dyes and the size of a barber’s trash can. A 2009 study showed that regulation cut gross state output in California by $493 billion a year.
“There is a national focus on reducing regulation, and this is not necessarily all along political lines,” said Mattie Duppler, who writes Americans for Tax Reform’s “Nanny State Update” online column in Washington. “Some of it is about jobs and revenue and some of it is about less government.”
Michigan this year replaced a 1931 law that limited retailers such as Captain Boom to selling sparklers and non- exploding fireworks, allowing purchases of all fireworks cleared by the U.S. for public sale. Also, for the first time in more than three decades, state residents 21 or older can legally ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet.
Webb said he plans to sell a full line of pyrotechnics from two new tents this year, adding to a business that already offers professional-grade indoor and outdoor displays and fills mail-orders from his warehouse.
“This was long overdue,” said Webb, who has worked in the industry for 33 years. “I like the idea of reducing regulations, particularly for fireworks.”
Florida Governor Rick Scott has said he wants to cull more than 1,000 state rules that he says are unnecessary. There are about 19,200 on the books. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s Regulatory Reinvention Office has cut more than 350 mandates and is studying at least 18,800 more.
The search for regulatory relief isn’t limited to Republicans. California’s top Democrat, Governor Jerry Brown, said April 17 that he wants to eliminate 718 required state reports, including one annually on Australia’s kangaroo harvest.
Americans for Tax Reform, a nonprofit group that opposes tax increases, has estimated that the average U.S. worker labored almost 28 days in 2011 to cover that year’s societal costs of state and local regulations. The 2009 California study released by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, showed that rules reduced employment by 3.8 million jobs, with the effects almost entirely borne by small businesses.
Among the more intrusive rules identified in Michigan were those that required child-care providers to smile, specified the size of barbers’ wastebaskets and when to empty them and stipulated replacements of warning labels on ladders, said Rob Nederhood, deputy director of the Regulatory Reinvention Office.
“In many cases regulations grew out of requests from the occupation and have become a barrier to entry,” Nederhood said. “Many of these laws were added in just the last decade.”
Minnesota and Alabama are also weighing fireworks law changes, joining at least 11 states that have relaxed rules in the past dozen years, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. Industry sales climbed 58 percent in 2011 from 2000 and are nearing $1 billion annually, the group’s figures show.
As for motorcycle crash-helmets, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Washington state lawmakers are weighing whether to ease laws requiring them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.
“I’m still smiling from ear to ear,” said Vince Consiglio, a retired Detroit school teacher who led efforts to change his state’s helmet law. A motorcycle safety instructor who received his first citation for riding without headgear in 1974, Consiglio said he took the inaugural legal helmetless spin on his 2011 Harley Davidson Inc. (HOG) Police Road King on April 13, the day the law was enacted.
As states have run out of money and cut back on taxpayer services and support, citizens have gotten more resentful of regulations, said Nick Gillespie, editor-in-chief of online and video productions at the Reason Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that promotes free markets.
“What you’re seeing is this push back on all these petty and arbitrary restrictions on everyday life,” Gillespie said by telephone. “You don’t get to run every detail of my life if you can’t balance the budget. Suddenly things like regulating the size of barbers’ waste baskets in Michigan don’t make sense.”
Arizona this year ended a legal fight over a 2010 state law permitting medical marijuana dispensaries. In March, the state began letting residents buy silencing devices for their guns.
The Idaho Senate last month killed a bill that would have restricted use of tanning beds by people younger than 16 years old. In Florida, a ban on using dyes to color animals ends July 1, under a law Scott signed this month.
Plenty of rules remain, and some are tightening.
The Sunshine State still prohibits riding a bicycle without at least one hand on the handlebars. Many jurisdictions are tightening restrictions on tobacco use and teenage drivers.
In the Nanny State column, Duppler recently highlighted initiatives banning food donations to homeless people for health reasons and proposals to bar smoking in personal cars.
West Virginia Republican John Raese, a candidate for the U.S. Senate, compared smoke-free building stickers required in his Monongalia County to Nazis making Jews wear a yellow star, in a video posted on YouTube.com of a speech he gave this month.
“I don’t want government telling me what I can do and what I can’t do,” Raese said in the clip. “But in Monongalia County you can’t smoke a cigarette, you can’t smoke a cigar, you can’t do anything. And I oppose that because I believe in everybody’s individual freedoms.”
Whatever the motivation to reconsider regulations, relaxed helmet laws shouldn’t be in the mix, said Anne McCartt, senior vice president of research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, an industry-funded group in Arlington, Virginia.
“It’s hard to overstate how dangerous it is to ride a motorcycle without a helmet,” McCartt said by telephone. “Maybe we’re in a period when personal liberties are more important. In terms of helmet laws, it’s going mostly the wrong way.”
In Michigan, Webb, who benefits from the relaxed fireworks law, is wary of too much freedom. The former physics instructor helps teach motorcycle-safety courses and plans to be more careful in cautioning new riders on the risk of going without headgear.
“I’m a big supporter of freedom, but death rates will go up for people not wearing helmets,” Webb said by telephone. “Natural selection is a messy thing. We’re getting a return to more personal freedom.”
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