By the time Gov. Greg Gianforte took office in 2021, Montana’s regulatory code had grown to over 4.7 million words and nearly 60,000 regulatory restrictions, as measured by words like “shall,” “must” and “required” in the state’s rulebook. It would have taken nearly seven weeks to read every rule, assuming 40 hours per week at a normal pace of reading. Montana’s regulatory burden was making our state less economically competitive than our regional neighbors and was in dire need of attention.
In response, Gianforte issued an executive order creating the Red Tape Relief Initiative tasked with leading a “top-to-bottom regulatory review of all state agencies” to identify and repeal “excessive, outdated and unnecessary regulations.” Now three years later, the Red Tape Relief Initiative has achieved some impressive results in reducing Montana’s regulatory burden that will benefit the state’s economy for years to come.
Frontier Institute’s 2024 Red Tape Snapshot reports the 13 agencies under Governor Gianforte’s jurisdiction have now repealed or amended 1,866 separate regulations, representing more than 16% of the total regulations originally on their books in 2021. From 2021 to 2023, Montana had an overall net reduction of 1,114 regulatory restrictions. The Department of Labor and Industry led the pack, reducing the agency’s total regulatory burden by 954 restrictions, or over 11% of the total restrictions imposed by the office.
By comparing agencies that did or did not participate, we can get an even better idea of the Red Tape Relief Initiative’s success. From 2021 to 2023, participating agencies had an overall net reduction of 1,392 restrictions, while agencies that did not participate in the Initiative, such as the Secretary of State, State Auditor, and Public Service Commission, actually had an overall net increase of 278 restrictions.
So far, Gov. Gianforte’s initiative appears to have been successful in changing the culture of state agencies to focus on reducing, rather than growing, the burden of government.
The Red Tape Relief Initiative also has prompted lawmakers to pro-actively focus on regulatory reform. In 2023 60+ bills were passed by the legislature as part of the Initiative. And while not directly part of the initiative, countless other bills have been passed in the last three years with a similar goal.
Looking back, what Montana has been able to accomplish in three years through red tape relief has been truly remarkable. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some notable regulatory reforms:
- One journeyman can now supervise two apprentices at a time. This reform has already resulted in a record number of new apprenticeships in 2023.
- After reforms to licensing and local zoning regulations, starting a childcare business from your home has never been easier.
- Physician Assistants can now practice independently to the fullest extent of their training.
- Pharmacists at the local drugstore can now independently prescribe routine medications directly to patients.
- Doctors can now dispense medications they prescribe directly from their office, saving patients an additional trip to the pharmacy.
- Liquor stores are now allowed to be open on Sundays and offer drive-through services.
- It’s now legal (pending a lawsuit) to build affordable starter homes like duplexes and accessory dwelling units in addition to single family homes in cities.
- The secret locations of Montana’s premier huckleberry patches are now safe and sound.
The Red Tape Relief Initiative might just be the most underrated success of the last few years of Montana government. In many ways, Montanans in 2024 are far more free than they were in 2021. My hope is that there is much more to come.
This column first appeared in Lee Newspapers.