TN Hearings on Fed Biz Regs Expected

State officials are anticipating congressional hearings in Tennessee by the end of this year to address federal regulation on the state’s businesses.

Further, Bill Hagerty, commissioner of Economic and Community Development, wants to see small business operators from Tennessee appear at hearings in Washington on regulations, particularly since small businesses may not have the lobbying clout that larger companies enjoy in the nation’s capital.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Hagerty held an economic development meeting in Sumner County on Thursday, and Hagerty mentioned the expectation of congressional hearings, as he has at previous economic development roundtables.

The Haslam administration has made a review of state regulations on businesses one of the pillars of an effort to improve Tennessee’s business climate. The administration has also noted difficulties businesses have in dealing with federal regulators.

Hagerty said Thursday after the roundtable in Sumner County he wished he had more details but doesn’t know what the schedule would be on federal hearings.

“I’ve talked with our congressional delegation. They’ve told me they want to conduct field hearings here. It just has to do with their leadership’s schedule and when they come to Tennessee,” Hagerty said.

“Every sense I get is that they’re very serious about doing it. They would like to highlight Tennessee businesses that are somehow suffering from some type of federal regulation.”

Frequently at the Haslam roundtables business leaders voice complaints about dealing with regulators at the state level, ranging from issues with the Department of Environment and Conservation to gaining approval from the State Fire Marshal’s Office, which falls under the Department of Commerce and Insurance.

Thursday’s roundtable brought concern from a banker over federal regulations in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which followed the recent crisis in the financial services industry.

Hagerty said he believes hearings on regulation in Washington that would include Tennessee business owners would probably be held in the last quarter of this year or the first quarter of 2012. An attempt to gain comment or details from some of the offices of Tennessee’s delegation in Washington on Thursday was unsuccessful.

Hagerty said his preference would be that members of Congress hear from small businesses rather than large companies.

“From my standpoint, I’d rather have small business, because that’s where the majority of our jobs come from,” Hagerty said. “The big businesses have all the infrastructure and lobbying ability, frankly, to get their point across anyway.

“This is a unique opportunity for us to allow some small businesses that wouldn’t otherwise have that voice to get before their elected leaders in Washington. I think we can really help amplify some of the concerns they have.”

Hagerty said he has noticed a consistent theme in the roundtable discussions with business owners.

“The nexus between education and my department is becoming clearer and clearer every time we’re on the road,” Hagerty said.

“The onus is on us to try to do a better job of tying our various commissioners’ charters together, so that what’s happening at Labor and Workforce Development is well coordinated, and with the Department of Education, which is certainly going to be well-coordinated with what we do here. I see this as a real opportunity that’s come through more and more.”

Haslam expressed a similar reaction to what he is hearing from the business discussions.

“A lot of it is in terms of understanding the pressure — particularly some of our smaller businesses face — to get the right training level (among workers),” the governor said.

“Some of the stuff you sort of think you know, but then you hear more specifically, ‘We need more of these types of folks trained coming out of high school and coming out of colleges.'”

Haslam said another common subject at the roundtables is worker’s compensation.

Hagerty said he has asked other commissioners in state government to give his department a single point of contact within their departments to maintain communication.

“I probably need to spend more time with my fellow commissioners, just talking about what I’m hearing in the field. I’m sure they’re hearing things as they go around the state, too,” Hagerty said.