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Rep. Westrom introduces small business 'bill of rights'

On Wednesday, State Representative Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, introduced a bill in the Civil Law committee to tighten up what he described as "arbitrary or capricious regulation" of small businesses.

On Wednesday, State Representative Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, introduced a bill in the Civil Law committee to tighten up what he described as "arbitrary or capricious regulation" of small businesses.

The bill, he said, would introduce a set of factors that all agencies would be required to consider when issuing a penalty for first time violations. In most cases, agencies can now assess fines of $10,000 to $25,000 a day - which can mount up quickly.

"The Small Business Bill of Rights is intended to improve cooperation between state agencies and small businesses," said Westrom. "It is our desire to create a more harmonious relationship with those entities and job providers that are being regulated by state agencies. Some penalties given out by state agencies do not achieve the desired improvement of small businesses; it does the opposite: it significantly hampers or terminates the business."

When dealing with a small business, the bill requires that state agencies treat parties fairly, and not take advantage of their relative position of power, Westrom said. The penalty factors are designed to encourage agencies to work cooperatively with a regulated entity, and to educate citizens about the laws and regulatory requirements that apply to small businesses, prior to issuing a potentially devastating fine.

While serious violations should not be condoned, he said, agencies must take into consideration the cooperativeness, cost of compliance, and economic realities of small farms, independent mechanics, and other small businesses when levying a fine.

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For small businesses with no history of non-compliance, agencies must reflect the lack of history of violations and temper their penalization demands, if the bill is passed.

Fines for first-time violations would be capped at 20 percent of the statutory maximum, except in cases where the violations present an imminent and substantial endangerment.

Westrom added, "This bill would provide state agencies with criteria they must consider before issuing a fine. This will also allow due process for our job creators."

The bill would also mirror the federal Equal Access to Justice Act by allowing for recovery of fees and expenses when an agency's position is not substantially justified by a court.

If a court determines the agency has gone too far and the penalty demand is excessive, the regulated entity may be able to recover fees and ex-penses incurred when challenging the penalty.

All of the new aspects provide exemptions for entities that truly acted in a malicious or bad faith manner.

Westrom, who represents part of Douglas County, urges you to share your experience with him or the Civil Law Committee Administrator John Reynolds. Both can be reached by calling (651) 296-4929 or e-mail at torrey.westrom@house.mn .

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