Government regulators have found their newest target: dogs. Specifically, restaurants that allow dogs on their premise, usually on a courtyard, patio, or some other outdoor area.

After the Clarion Ledger ran a story on pet-friendly restaurants in the Jackson metro area, the Mississippi Department of Health fired back saying that is illegal. And that Mississippi code prohibits pets in restaurants, even outdoor areas.

MDH cites the Food and Drug Administration’s Food Code model, which is housed in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for the prohibition. That model recommends prohibiting animals in food service establishments, save for service dogs. 

The state doesn’t have to follow the FDA model. Indeed, many states have already legalized dogs in restaurants. 

While it may be somewhat tricky to find a formal statistic, there are at least 12 states that explicitly allow dogs to join their owners in restaurants, according to the Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University. This started with Florida in 2006, and now includes California, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

These laws generally do two things. They often allow local governments to enact ordinances if they would like and they allow restaurants to choose whether they would like to welcome dogs on their property. 

And with that, consumers can choose to bring their dog to a pet-friendly establishment, just as those who don’t like dogs can opt to go somewhere else. And the owner of the restaurant can decide what is better for his or her business. 

What path a restaurant chooses isn’t as important as the restaurant having the ability to choose. But prohibiting dogs in restaurants are just one of the more than 117,000 restrictions in the state’s regulatory code.  

The biggest regulator in the state? As you would imagine, the same Department of Health that is going after dogs in restaurants. 

And why does this matter?

Regulatory growth has a detrimental effect on economic growth. We now have a history of empirical data on the relationship between regulations and economic growth. A 2013 study in the Journal of Economic Growth estimates that federal regulations have slowed the U.S. growth rate by 2 percentage points a year, going back to 1949. A recent study by the Mercatus Center estimates that federal regulations have slowed growth by 0.8 percent since 1980. If we had imposed a cap on regulations in 1980, the economy would be $4 trillion larger, or about $13,000 per person. Real numbers, and real money, indeed. 

On the international side, researchers at the World Bank have estimated that countries with a lighter regulatory touch grow 2.3 percentage points faster than countries with the most burdensome regulations. And yet another study, this published by the Quarterly Journal of Economics, found that heavy regulation leads to more corruption, larger unofficial economies, and less competition, with no improvement in public or private goods. 

A prescription for lowering the regulatory burden on a state is the one-in-two-out rule, or a regulatory cap. In 2017, one of President Donald Trump’s first executive orders was to require at least two prior regulations to be identified for elimination for every new regulation issued. This is badly needed. We have gone from 400,000 federal regulations in 1970 to over 1.1 million today. 

Many years ago, British Columbia took on a similar mission. And in less than two decades, their regulatory requirements have decreased by 48 percent. The result has been an economic revival for the Canadian province. 

Whether it’s a sunset provision, where regulations expire and must be reauthorized after a period of time, or one-in-two-out policy, Mississippi should move in the direction toward a smaller regulatory state with more freedom. And if a regulation is truly important to our well-being, let the regulators prove why.

A decision by the state to allow dogs in restaurants won’t change the trajectory of the state’s economy, for better or worse. But a deep dive into the unnecessary and outdated regulations of each agency can go a very long way toward removing unnecessary barriers and inhibitors.