Coronavirus Puts Counterproductive Regulations Into Perspective

Many regulations serve little to no public purpose.


Governments in the United States are restricting freedoms to unprecedented degrees in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. As dangerous as this expansion of power is, in some ways, federal, state, and local governments are also reducing their intrusions into our lives by cutting many regulations.

This deregulation falls into three categories: help people deal with the virus (including those who are confined to their homes with children who need to be home-schooled); help businesses stay open and cater to their consumers under these unusual circumstances; and free the private health care sector to better respond to the virus.

Here are just a few of the rules that were lifted to enhance our freedom and our safety:

In New York state, the government has suspended a regulation mandating that child care providers undergo criminal background checks. The state's governor also eliminated almost two dozen other regulations, including those that artificially restrict the number of children allowed in day care facilities to ones that set minimum staffing requirements.

Many states have also lifted restrictions to home-based instructional policies. The Federal Communications Commission waived existing E-Rate rules to allow schools to issue Wifi hotspots or devices to students who lack internet access at home. And the U.S. Department of Education has eased rules that made it unnecessarily difficult for colleges and universities to shift classes online.

To help avoid shortages in stores, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a nationwide exemption to some rules forbidding most commercial truckers from driving more than 11 hours in a 14-hour span. The DOT also relaxed a rule requiring that drivers' rest periods be a minimum of 10 hours; now each rest period can be split into two separate breaks. In Texas, trucks are now allowed to deliver both groceries and alcohol at the same time. Some states, like Alabama, are also allowing prescriptions to be filled for longer than 30 days. But the best deregulation of an unnecessary rule is that the Transportation Security Administration, at least during this crisis, now allows passengers to bring liquid hand sanitizer containers of up to 12 ounces in carry-on bags.

Many businesses that deal directly with the public may now cater to consumers in ways that were once forbidden. For instance, several states, including Texas and New Hampshire, now allow restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages with carryout and delivery orders. New Jersey just allowed microbreweries and brewpubs to deliver beers. Other jurisdictions—in order to reduce the spread of the virus—have lifted their bans on plastic bags and single-use cups. And some states now allow spirit distillers to produce hand sanitizer. Meanwhile, North Dakota now recognizes expired occupational licenses.

On the health care front, many states now recognize physicians and other medical professionals who are licensed in other states. Colorado, California, and other states extended a grace period for lapsed licenses for retired doctors and nurses who want to practice. And the Department of Health and Human Services is lifting the rules preventing doctors and medical professionals to practice across state lines.

Many states also lifted certificate of need regulations, rapidly increasing health care capacity. HHS and many states have eased restrictions on the practice of telemedicine, too, thus allowing patients to see their doctors from the comfort and safety of their homes.

The Food and Drug Administration—an agency that has rightfully been shamed for the role it played in our current lack of COVID-19 tests and face masks—is eliminating some of its counterproductive rules. For instance, the agency is streamlining the process to expedite COVID-19 tests. It's allowing private companies to market the COVID-19 test without prior approval as well.

The Trump administration is also relaxing some of its tariffs on certain medical equipment and supplies. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency lifted the protectionist Buy American Act, now giving Puerto Rico and other territories discretion to acquire personal protective equipment from non-U.S. sources.

The large number of rules lifted by federal, state, and local governments in response to this pandemic reveals the sad reality that many regulations serve little to no good public purpose. Hopefully, people will realize how counterproductive these rules were and will not allow them to be reinstated after the crisis is over. In the end, we'll all be freer and safer.


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  1. “several states, including Texas and New Hampshire, now allow restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages with carryout and delivery orders. New Jersey just allowed microbreweries and brewpubs to deliver beers.”

    C’mon, Kansas. Let’s get with the program. Since our Alcoholic Beverage Control has decided to take the entire month off, should our restaurants and breweries throw caution to the wind, and deliver, or wait for permission?

    1. Why not allow grocery stores to deliver beer and wine as well? They could require ID at delivery.

      1. But then how do we stop parents from giving alcohol to children at home? The horror!

  2. Great article Veronique.

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  4. “Many regulations serve little to no public purpose.”

    But they do serve the political elite by conditioning citizens to accept creeping fascism, and are therefore necessary.

    1. Come on, you forget the value of public displays for many sheeple. How many would be too scared to fly without TSA security theater?

      You and I might crave a freer society and more personal responsibility, but the average schmuck wants to be cared for like a child.

      1. Painful to think this memory is almost 20 years old, but I remember seeing clueless idiots seeking out the screeners to check their bags, back when they had card tables set up at each gate in airport terminals for “secondary screening.” As if to say “oh thank you, I feel so much better now, knowing that you’ve looked in the bag I’ve had with me the entire time.” I always enjoyed just walking right by them, kind of like the grocery store scene in Animal House where Flounder says “nothing for me today, thanks.”

      2. +1,000,000!!!!

    2. Oh come on man! How is a politician or bureaucrat supposed to climb the ladder without a record of “doing something”? There’s no better way to pad that resume than enacting meaningless (at best) regulations!

  5. It will be interesting to see what we do on the other side of this. My bet is nothing. All the waivers and suspensions will cease and we’ll return to business as usual.

    Part of the problem is that many of these regulations are laws enacted by Congress. It would take congressional action to remove them (unless you believe in the imperial presidency and the magic wand of Executive Order). Too bad we don’t have a permanent “sunset commission” empowered to periodically review and remove useless regulations.

    Or maybe Frank Herbert had a great idea when he wrote about the Bureau of Sabotage.

    1. I loved the Bureau of Sabotage. Interesting concept, especially how you got promoted within it, by sabotaging your boss. I’ve always thought that every regulation and subsidy should have a sunset date built in, so Congress has to review them every few years, and then decide whether to renew or not. Laws, even major ones, should be reviewed every so often to see if they comply with and account for changes in technology, and those time limits should be stated when the bills are passed into laws.

      1. Careful what you wish for–while I like your overall concept, we really don’t want the laws against murder to expire because the legislature was deadlocked on something else or lazy or for whatever other reason didn’t get around to renewing them.

    2. All laws should have a 15 to 20-year sunset. As a bonus, we keep the politicians busy passing laws we need that are up for renewal.

  6. Libertarian moment!

  7. Holy Crap! Someone at unreason does an article that mentions Trump and states rolling back ridiculous regulations and there is little TDS in there.

    1. There are two paragraphs starting with “many states have lifted restrictions” followed by naming a restriction lifted by the federal government under Trump. That’s giving credit to the states for what Trump did, and a nod towards the TDS the Reason staff seems to have.

      Further, there’s not a single mention of Trump telling the FDA/CDC to eliminate the government created monopoly on producing Covid19 tests, or the changes to rules regarding use of unapproved medications for Covid such as hydroxychloroquine and as Wikipedia reports “A federal right to try law was passed in May 2018, but as of June 2019 only two patients had been accepted for experimental therapies.[2] According to Scott Gottlieb, who served as commissioner of the FDA under President Donald Trump, the FDA had approved 99% of patient requests for access to experimental drugs prior to the passage of right to try legislation.[3]”

      See, they want to ignore the libertarian moves Trump has made. So perhaps there’s more than a “little TDS in there”.

  8. Many of the regulations mentioned in this article are necessary, such as background checks for child care centers, but they could be streamlined. Why, if I am seeking a job as a child care provider, would I need to undergo a background check every time I apply for the job? My drivers license shows that I am legally allowed to ride a motorcycle, but I have not ridden in over thirty years, and yet that endorsement is still accepted and legal. Why can’t I have a background check endorsement that states I went through one within the last few years and passed with flying colors. If there is doubt, all someone should have to do is call an 800 number, enter the drivers license number, and an automated database could notify them that everything on that license is still valid, or it is not. Quick, easy, cheap. As long as any violation of the law by the holder of the license is logged by law enforcement in a timely fashion, the system would also be safe. One could do the same for background checks for firearms and ammunition purchases. It could be the dawn of a truly compliant drivers license.

    1. It is the same reason you need to pass a background check every time you accept transfer of a firearm from a dealer, even if just hours apart.

  9. And then there are the EPA restrictions on cremations. Stacking up bodies in NYC because you aren’t allowed to cremate 7/24.

  10. Or stepping much further back, how about we take the Swedish route of dealing with this virus. Treat the populace as if they are free citizens and functioning adults.

    “In Sweden we are following the tradition that we have in Sweden and working very much with voluntary measures, very much with informing the public about the right things to do. That has worked reasonably well so far”

    I’d be so much happier with this whole thing if all western governments had taken the Swedish approach. That, along with separate temporary virus treatment centers, in order to stop creating outbreaks within hospitals and care centers.

  11. The article makes interesting points, but it isn’t a slam-dunk example of government over-regulation. Child care providers probably should have criminal background checks, particularly sex-offender background checks. My job isn’t even primarily dealing with humans; I’m a computer tech, and my focus is on fixing laptops and desktops. Yet, every employer who hires me requires me to undergo a criminal background check, even if it’s for just a one-month project. I’m surprised that New York lifted its restriction to the number of children allowed in a day care facility, because most of the nation has shut down schools entirely and restricted more than a small number (some as small as two) from meeting. My local Walmart counts the number of people entering the store! Why would a state allow *more* children to bunch together now?

    States’ abusive and discriminatory regulations against private and home schooling has been well-known for many decades, but I’m surprised to read suggestions that government agencies have been impeding progress in telepresence schooling. That the medical field is over-regulated in virtually every humanly-possible way is no surprise.

    I strongly oppose the consumption of alcoholic beverages under normal circumstances. Humans and alcohol are a bad mix, especially in any situation in which sound, rational judgement or domestic tranquility are necessary. Designating liquor stores as “essential business” is absolutely ridiculous, especially when so many other businesses (such as barber shops) are shut down as “non-essential.” Nobody ever needs alcoholic beverages. Ever! Hardly any problem cannot be made worse by the addition of alcohol.

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