Mississippi has more than 118,000 regulations on the books that impact virtually every area of our life. The issue isn’t just that we have more regulations per capita than any other state in the South. It is that they aren’t reviewed to ensure they are cost effective and not counterproductive. 

Last year, legislation was introduced and cleared the House that would have created a pilot program to reduce regulations. Under the proposal, four agencies would have had to review their regulations and reduce those regs 10 percent a year for three years. In three years, they would have been down 30 percent. This would then provide a starting point for future regulatory reductions among other agencies. 

But the legislation didn’t make it through the Senate. And then COVID-19 hit. 

Pandemic necessitates to regulatory reduction

As the coronavirus began to spread, two of the immediate healthcare concerns revolved around limited access to medical professionals and a fear of being in the same facility of someone who has the virus. After all, we’re supposed to be social distancing. Thankfully, telemedicine is available to provide you healthcare access in your living room. 

To expand access, we began to see states waive the requirement that you can only use an in-state physician in March. Mississippi did that. And then just as quickly walked back that change to only allow this if you have a prior patient-physician relationship, greatly limiting your options as a consumer. Mississippians should be able to access the doctor or nurse practitioner of their choosing, regardless of the state they are licensed and whether or not you have had a previous face-to-face visit.

The same story holds in education. As every school in the state was shut down, an order from Gov. Tate Reeves called for all school districts to adopt distance learning for their students. Six months later this is still a challenge partly because of the rural nature of the state but also because we never had an interest in virtual learning. 

Mississippi has a virtual public school, but it’s simply a couple courses a student can take, not a full distance learning program. Every student in the state should have the ability to choose from a plethora of digital options to serve their needs. We are told how hard it is to bring teachers for specific subjects to the most rural or impoverished regions of the state. This could fill that void.

Moreover, virtual charter schools are prohibited in Mississippi’s limited charter law. Some states even have a hybrid mix of homeschool/ charter school facilities where students attend a couple days per week while still doing most of their education at home. Families are able to decide if and what is the best option for their children. Some do a 100 percent virtual program. But not here.  

Not only does the data show us that regulations hurt economic growth, but they limited healthcare and education access – two very crucial aspects in the lives of most people – during an international pandemic.

That should tell us something.  

Potential next steps?

At the federal level, legislation has been introduced to create a commission that would be tasked with reviewing, and potentially modifying and eliminating regulations. This would serve in many ways like the BRAC commission that was formed at the end of the Cold War to close unneeded military bases. In these instances, politicians are replaced with impartial judges who have a specific mission likely to not be impacted by special interests or electoral concerns. 

Mississippi could do something similar. After all, there is general agreement that rules and regulations need to be changed or deleted. The problem is just doing it. Because with every rule is a special interest group or government bureaucracy that likes it.

Mississippi could also move to true sunset provisions on regulations. That is what exists in Idaho and helped the state become the least regulated state in the nation. In 2019, the Idaho legislature essentially repealed their entire state code book when the legislature adjourned without renewing the regulations, something they are required to do each session because the state has an automatic sunset provision. The governor was then tasked with deciding which regulation the state actually needs. With this, the burden on regulations now switches from the governor or legislature needing to justify why a regulation should to be removed to justifying why we need to keep a regulation. 

We know regulatory reform is needed. And there are plenty of paths the legislature can follow. It’s just a matter of doing it.