Committee seeks to cut red tape for businesses

House Speaker David Ralston tasked a business panel to conduct "Red Tape Watch" meetings.



ATLANTA — There was no shortage of witnesses Thursday eager to recount to a new House committee about how government regulations caused frustration and added expense.

Many of the witnesses, however, complained about problems the General Assembly can do little about, and there was little documentation presented of how the government burdens stifled job creation.

House Speaker David Ralston tasked Rep. David Knight, a Griffin accountant, to lead the Small Business & Job Creation Committee and to conduct “Red Tape Watch” meetings.

“It gives me hope,” said Mary Moore, the owner of the Cook’s Warehouse stores. “It’s exciting to know you’re looking into these issues.”

She told of being audited five times in one year by different state agencies. The most annoying was for the sales tax she must collect from her customers. According to Moore, even the auditor admitted the rules were so complicated that mistakes were easy to make.

Other witnesses filed gripes about insurance companies that give patients incentives to take prescriptions to out-of-state mail-order pharmacies, local health ordinances and federal employment regulations.

Former Rep. Kevin Levitas, a Democrat from Decatur, told of the challenge his small company has in selling to state agencies that are required to purchase from the state-run Georgia Correctional Industries. GCI doesn’t have to pay taxes or the inmates who make what he described as shoddy products, though. The result is an unfair advantage over private businesses, he said.

“Small businesses are being displaced,” he said.

The state created GCI as work training for inmates so they would be employable after their release. However, half of those working in the program have life sentences, he said.

Rep. Allen Peake, R-Macon, ribbed his former colleague by asking why Levitas didn’t address the problem when he was in the legislature. Levitas said he tried but quit when other lawmakers highjacked the bill and added so many amendments that it no longer had the same impact.

The Red Tape Watch is part of the Republican agenda, and Knight promised to gather more input and seek ways to eliminate the most troublesome examples raised.