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Maine state panel hears criticism of business regulations in Portland meeting

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Maine state panel hears criticism of business regulations in Portland meeting

PORTLAND — Small-business owners and industry lobbyists told the state what's wrong with its regulation of business at a meeting Friday afternoon.

The Maine Regulatory Fairness Board hosted the forum at the Portland Public Library on Congress Street. The board, which includes Secretary of State Charles Summers and four Maine business people, is holding public meetings throughout the state.

The board has said it plans to use feedback from the meetings to recommend changes in regulations and laws that will improve Maine's business climate. The recommendations will be submitted to Gov. Paul LePage and the Legislature.

One topic at the meeting was occupational safety regulations.

Faced with a maze of federal and state rules, small businesses such as boat yards "simply can't bear any more pressure," said Susan Swanton, executive director of the Maine Marine Trades Association.

"Our first responsibility is safety in the workplace, but there has to be some balance," she said. She said boat yards don't always have the personnel or resources to keep up with confusing and sometimes conflicting rules.

"(The Occupational Safety and Health Administration) only speaks OSHA," she said, and claimed that the agency is overly punitive.

"There's an adversarial attitude ... that is inadvertently causing harm and instilling fear. OSHA is all about 'getcha,'" she said.

A man from the Houlton area criticized the state's landlord-tenant laws. He said that current regulations allow deadbeat tenants to stay in their homes while eviction proceedings are adjudicated. He suggested that the state collect rents and hold them in escrow until evictions are resolved.

"The current legal system is costing landlords thousands of dollars, while it subsidizes non-paying tenants," he said.

The owner of a convenience store near Bangor complained of laws that were making it difficult for her to open an adjoining bar. Because of differences in rules for alcohol sales, her employees would be required to walk outside the store in order to get supplies from the bar, she claimed.

Mark Tyler, the board vice chairman and a former restaurant owner, clarified the fine points of the rules, but agreed that they were confusing. But the convenience store owner remained frustrated.

"Maine has become known as anti-business because of its over-regulation," she said before leaving the meeting.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.