Last year, the state Transportation Department approved a regulation that required auto dealers to operate at least 20 hours a week, with at least four of those hours occurring during the weekday.
Goofy as it was for the Idaho Transportation Department to dictate the hours of a business, state lawmakers went along with it. The House and Senate Transportation Committees signed off on the regulation. The House committee approved the regulation by just one vote. Conservative members complained bitterly. Rep. Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene, herself an auto dealer, said the regulation was the biggest anti-business concept she’d seen in a long time. Eventually, House members, embarrassed by their support for rampant statism, repented; House Transportation Chairman Joe Palmer of Meridian authored a bill which would have stopped the Transportation Department from enforcing a private business’s hours of operation. That bill passed the House, but it died when Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, refused to give the measure consideration in his Transportation Committee.
In others words, lawmakers, in their collective actions, actually allowed a regulation to take effect telling private businesses when they had to be open and how many hours they were to be open. Several legislators told me it was perfectly acceptable for the state government to do that. Supporters of the original mandate contend it was necessary to prevent fly-by-night auto dealers. But its ancillary effects included preventing small auto dealers—especially those who are trying to hold down other jobs in addition to selling cars—from being able to operate.
It’s also obviously odious that government officials were now in the business of telling businesses the minimum number of hours they were expected to offer services. If government has the power to dictate when auto dealerships are open, it also has the power to apply similar requirements to any other private sector industry—be they gas stations, flower shops, candy stores or restaurants. Nanny Government types will always come up with a supposedly good reason why it is important to impose such regulations. But it’s never appropriate for government to micromanage a business, and especially at such an astoundingly heavy-handed level.
Fortunately, this story has a somewhat happy ending. The Idaho Transportation Board on Thursday voted to repeal its controversial anti-business regulation. The board’s action is late but laudable, better but not perfect. The new regulation still requires auto dealerships to report their hours to the Transportation Board. But gone is the mandate that businesses remain open a set number of hours, or that they be open a set number of hours on certain days. The Transportation Board came to its senses, which is good, because it is quite obvious state lawmakers weren’t going to get there on their own.
We are often told the Legislature is so very conservative and very unwilling to regulate the private sector. This incident proves that’s not the case. It took a state agency, its bureaucrats and its regulatory board to do what the Legislature wouldn’t, to stop an inappropriate regulation from taking effect. Next time, we might not be so lucky.