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Gov. Hogan panel: Maryland government unwieldy

A state panel told Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday that if he wants to make government more efficient, he should restructure the entire thing.

Hogan appointed the Regulatory Reform Commission in July to give him ideas on how to streamline operations and improve customer service for businesses — a mission the Republican governor called "a fundamental principle of our administration."

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The commission, composed of business leaders, released its first report Wednesday. It said overlapping authority and regulations cause so much red tape that Hogan should reorganize state departments, something last done in 1970 under then-Gov. Marvin Mandel.

"Governor Mandel's restructuring brought Maryland state government into the 20th century," the commission wrote. "Forty-five years later, the state's governmental structure is again convoluted and lacks continuity. It is time to bring Maryland government into the 21st Century."

The report suggested Hogan take on tasks both complex — the government reorganization — and as simple as writing new regulations for food trucks.

The panel suggested the state cede regulatory authority on approving wetland permits to local governments, a proposal that would make life easier for developers but likely would spark concern among environmentalists.

And it concluded, after receiving more than 400 public comments, that regulators put "an emphasis on punitive enforcement instead of assisting compliance," which created a "gotcha environment."

The governor said he had not fully reviewed the recommendations and could not comment on the specifics.

But he said improving the state's "burdensome regulatory climate" for businesses was "key" to his goal of boosting job growth.

"We want to change the entire culture of state government to one of customer service," Hogan said Wednesday during a Board of Public Works meeting. "From my executive staff here on the second floor to our cabinet secretaries, all the way down through the bureaucracy: this is going to be a primary push for us."

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During the election campaign last year, Hogan said voters complained more about regulations and red tape than about taxes.

The commission's report was the first of three expected over the next three years. The panel recommended creating a "one-stop shop" for questions about licenses, permits, regulations, applications and anything else a business might need.

It also said state agencies should maximize electronic filing methods and managers should report on their projects every six months. The panel recommended guidelines and clear time limits for responding to requests and applications.

"In this day, there is no reason that electronic submissions, as opposed to paper filings, should not be accepted across the board," the commission said. "Moreover, this will allow information to be transmitted freely and data to be shared among the state agencies and reviewers seamlessly."

The panel said state agencies have an "antiquated system" for dealing with the public, and concluded that "state government has expanded to a point where it is causing significant harm to the ability to foster economic growth."

The commission suggested only local governments review development plans that would disturb wetlands, instead of having the state oversee the issue as well. Local jurisdictions, it said, would have to reapply annually for authority to do this. It also suggested ending the Army Corps of Engineers' review of wetlands permits.

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The commission tackled more mundane but infuriating problems for business owners, such as what it described as rigorous licensing requirements for a vineyard to sell cheese.

"Evidently, because of regulations promulgated by the Department of Agriculture and the Health Department, wine and (hard) cheese could not be served to the public on the premises unless special equipment was installed for draining oils from grilled cheese — even though the cheese was not being grilled," the commission said. "The requirements are conflicting, involve duplication and redundant inspections, and can take three to four years to obtain the license."

Hogan, who took office in January, said that his administration would figure out a way to "get the government off our backs and out of our pockets."

It was not immediately clear Wednesday how many of the report's recommendations would require approval from the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

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