Mississippi has a ways to go before challenging some of the South’s strongest economies, and one key reason is more regulation and red tape than its neighbors. New legislation proposed this session could have helped rein in government red tape, but the most significant bills failed to gain enough traction. Thus, Mississippi has a long way to go if it wants to unburden itself of the moniker “the most regulated state in the South.”
In 2018, as part of a national review of state regulations, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found Mississippi has nearly 118,000 regulatory restrictions on the books. All told, the state code book includes 9.3 million words, and it would take about 13 weeks to read if all one did was read regulations as a full time job.
The biggest regulator in Mississippi, by far, is the Department of Health, with more than 20,000 restrictions. Coming in second is the Department of Human Services, with over 12,000 restrictions. Various state boards, commissions, and examiners have a combined 10,000 restrictions.
These regulations touch every industry in the state and impact each Mississippian in some form or fashion. The health care and assisted living sectors are particularly highly regulated. Some of these rules keep our senior citizens safe, but surely others, like restrictions on relocating or renovating medical facilities, just make the system inflexible, especially during an emergency.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed deep shortcomings in the regulatory system. To ensure an adequate amount of health care coverage, governors around the country have been relaxing—not increasing—regulations. This includes easing restrictions on telemedicine, recognizing medical licenses from other states, and in some states, rolling back requirements that health care facilities obtain permission from regulators before adding new equipment like hospital beds.
Overall, Mississippi’s regulatory load is about average for a typical state, but when compared to some of its neighbors, a clearer picture emerges. A new Mercatus Center analysis summarizes data from eight southern states stretching from Kentucky down to Florida and over to Louisiana. Of these states, Florida has the most regulatory restrictions at 171,000. However, if one adjusts for the fact that a bigger population tends to generate more regulation, Florida is, by that measure, actually the least regulated. Of the group, Mississippi has the most regulations per capita (and the lowest GDP per capita).
More populous states tend to have more industries, denser urban areas, and other factors that generally contribute to a higher number of regulations. This explains why California, Ohio, New York, and Texas are all among the five-most regulated states in America, despite having very different political environments.
Mississippi lawmakers recently had an opportunity to reduce regulatory burdens. Several bills were proposed that would have created regulatory reduction pilot programs at various state agencies. The idea is that a small consortium of agencies should have to measure and track how much regulation they impose, and then make sensible cuts based on those measurements. If all goes well, the pilot program can be expanded to other agencies. The state of Virginia has already implemented a pilot program like this, demonstrating that the idea is feasible, affordable, and even bipartisan.
None of the various Mississippi proposals made it into law this year. However, governors around the country have taken action by issuing red-tape reduction executive orders. Gov. Tate Reeves could start by reviewing regulations suspended in response to COVID-19, as Idaho has recently done. Or he could take a more aggressive approach, like Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, who earlier this year ordered a 25 percent across-the-board regulatory reduction.
Whatever approach is taken, Mississippians need regulatory relief now. The pandemic continues to ravage the country, and the nation’s regulatory system is simply not up to the task. There is an opportunity to rectify the situation if our leaders will heed the call.
This column appeared in the Clarion Ledger on July 7, 2020.