New Initiatives Include a Business Owner’s Bill of Rights, Steps to Help Businesses Avoid Automatic Fines and In-Person Hearings and Other Customer Service-Oriented Actions

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Christine C. Quinn today announced 14 measures to make it easier for the City’s 220,000 small businesses to influence and comply with the City rules governing them. The 14 measures are the result of the work of the Regulatory Review Panel, a joint effort by the Mayor and City Council to scrutinize City regulations and how they are developed and make recommendations to recast them, eliminate unnecessary obstacles that hinder business growth, and enhance public participation in rulemaking.

The new initiatives include establishing a Business Owner’s Bill of Rights, helping businesses avoid automatic fines if they quickly cure a low-risk violation, and making it possible for businesses to settle or contest violations without appearing in person. The Mayor and Speaker were joined at the announcement by Counselor to the Mayor and Regulatory Review Panel Chair Anthony Crowell, Council Minority Leader James Oddo, Council Deputy Majority Leader Leroy G. Comrie, Jr., Small Business Services Commissioner Robert W. Walsh, Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement Director Shari Hyman, Administrative Justice Coordinator David Goldin, and Richard and Victoria Aviles, co-owners of Bridge Cleaners, which hosted the announcement at its cleaning facility at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“Every city has the responsibility to make sure businesses operate safely and appropriately, but that doesn’t have to mean business owners should need to spend a lot of money on consultants, decipher confusing legal jargon, or take off work to settle or contest violations that can be handled online,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “To make sure businesses in New York City don’t have to, we’ve identified a set of actions that will make it easier for all businesses to know what the rules are and how to comply with them. As importantly, business owners should have a say in what the regulations are in the first place, so we’re also making it easier for them to be a part of the rulemaking process. Enacting and enforcing sensible regulations is a necessity, but we’re committed to making sure it’s done in a way that embraces local businesses as valued customers of the City.”

“We are moving away from an enforcement-driven inspection process to one that is much more customer-service oriented,” said Speaker Quinn. “Today’s announcement is an important first step toward innovative enforcement as we look to work with small businesses not against them. With these new reforms in small business regulations, I am confident that we will make the City a more tempting place for entrepreneurs to thrive and prosper. Making life easier for our small business owners is the key to building a diverse and thriving economy.”

“Today we continue moving beyond simply talking about helping small businesses to taking real steps to offer them much needed assistance,” said Council Minority Leader Oddo. “We need to help, lead, and get out of their way to allow them to survive, grow, and diversify New York City’s economy. This is a genuine step in that direction.”

In addition to being on the panel, Council Member Oddo has also put together legislation that would review each rule by the Mayor to ensure that the rule is:

Written in plain language, absent of jargon;
Consistent with other laws, rules and regulations;
Transparent in purpose; and
A product of substantive outreach to the regulated community

“I would like to thank Speaker Quinn for the opportunity to serve on the Regulatory Review Panel,” said Council Deputy Majority Leader Comrie. “This panel represents a new beginning of listening to our small business community to ensure that we as legislators do all that we can to support then during this time of economic hardship. As the former chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee, I firmly believe that the release of this report is an example of government listening to their constituents and establishing sound guidelines, regulations, and principles to ensure small business owners can focus less on red tape and more on improving revenues. As the Chair of the Queens Delegation, it was especially important that we highlight the need for city agencies to be more accessible on a borough basis. This report emphasizes the need for borough-liaisons so business owners do not have to travel long-distances and potentially close their shop for an entire day to visit a New York City agency.”

“This is the single most significant reform process in over a generation,” said Robert Bookman, Counsel to the New York Nightlife Association, the NYC Chapters of the State Restaurant Association and the New York City Newsstand Operators Association. “The small business community welcomes the next phase where we hope to see real changes adopted which will help our struggling small businesses.”

In 2009, Mayor Bloomberg and Speaker Quinn announced the formation of the Regulatory Review Panel to modernize the rulemaking process with particular attention on enhancing public participation and identifying and fixing systemic problems with existing rules and rule implementation. The Panel received input from well over 200 small business owners, industry representatives and other stakeholders through outreach sessions with business owners in all five boroughs, meetings with various industry and civic groups, and written comments from the general public.

The 14 measures will:

· Establish a Business Owner’s Bill of Rights – The City will create and distribute a Business Owner’s Bill of Rights that sets forth clear customer service standards to encourage constructive interactions between small business owners and agency inspectors. The Bill of Rights will serve as a customer service guide for business owners to know what they can and should expect when interacting with the City.

· Enable Businesses to Avoid Automatic Fines and Penalties – The Administrative Justice Coordinator will work with all City agencies to ensure that small businesses are provided with an opportunity to resolve certain violations before automatic penalties or fines are levied. Currently, the Buildings, Consumer Affairs, Health and Mental Hygiene and Fire Departments provide such an opportunity for certain low-risk violations, i.e. violations that do not pose an imminent threat to public health, safety or well-being.

· Enable Business to Avoid Having to Appear in Person to Settle or Contest Violations – The Administrative Justice Coordinator will work with agencies to ensure that, where possible, small businesses are able to avoid having to physically appear before administrative tribunals. Instead, businesses would be able to settle or contest violations over the internet, by mail, or by telephone, saving time and money.

· Launch an Interactive NYCRules Website for All Rulemaking Actions – Today, small businesses and the public must rely on an antiquated rulemaking process to comment on proposed agency rules or learn more about rules that are about to go into effect. This morning, Mayor Bloomberg signed Executive Order 133 requiring all City agencies to post their proposed and final rules on a new website: The site will enable small businesses and the public at large to submit their comments regarding proposed rules electronically, and sign up to receive newsletters about rulemaking activity in the City. Not only will it modernize a process that was first conceived over twenty years ago, but also it will open up agency rulemaking to a much broader range of New Yorkers.

· Develop Plain Language Guides to Demystify Complex Regulations – The Mayor’s Office of Operations will work with agencies to simplify the language of regulations and regulatory processes, helping reduce unnecessary legal and consulting fees. The City will start with regulatory processes that have been identified as sources of confusion for small businesses.

· Expand Programs for Immigrant Small Business Owners – The Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Department of Small Business Services will expand efforts to assist immigrant-owned small businesses, representing approximately half of all small businesses in the City. The City, which already provides assistance to Latino-owned businesses, will make its materials available for translation to groups representing the City’s other ethnic communities, specifically the Chinese-, Russian- and Korean-American communities.

· Establish Customer Service Review of Proposed Rules – The Mayor’s Office of Operations will review all proposed rules from a customer service perspective to identify inefficiencies and work with agencies to address them before the proposed rule is published and could potentially slow business growth or hinder economic development.

· Implement Customer Service Training for Agency Inspectors – The Mayor’s Office of Operations will work with all agencies to establish new training techniques for agency inspectors that focus on improving the overall customer service businesses receive during their inspection, and encourage more constructive interactions between small business owners and agency inspectors.

· Enhance 311 to Meet the Needs of Small Businesses – The Mayor’s Office of Operations will enhance the up-to-date regulation information available through the 311 Customer Call Center to ensure that small business owners can access easily the resources they need.

· Distribute Industry-Specific Newsletters to Small Businesses –The Department of Small Business Services will work with agencies to distribute e-newsletters to certain types of small businesses, such as a “Restaurant News” newsletter, so businesses can stay on top of regulatory developments that directly impact their operations.

· Teach Businesses How to Avoid Violations – All agencies will seek to replicate, where applicable, the Department of Consumer Affairs “Education Days” initiative, where inspectors are deployed specifically to educate businesses on how best to comply with agency rules and prevent fines and penalties.

· Provide Information on Incentive Programs Online – In February 2010, in response to the work of the Regulatory Reform Panel, the Department of Small Business Services upgraded NYC Business Express, the City’s one-stop website for City-issued licenses and permits, to include a new feature that will provide information about various tax incentive program.

· Designate Agency Liaisons with the City’s Chambers of Commerce – All City agencies will designate a liaison to chambers of commerce, providing small businesses with a person with whom they can have an ongoing conversation about regulatory issues.

· Expand Agency Rule Revision Initiatives – In light of all the above reforms, all agencies will re-evaluate their rules with an eye towards eliminating undue costs and burdens.

“The Regulatory Review Panel set out to accomplish two things: modernize the rulemaking process with a focus on enhancing public participation, and identify systemic problems with agency rules and come up with recommendations that address them,” said Counselor to the Mayor Anthony Crowell, who Chairs the Regulatory Review Panel. “These 14 measures comprise a major evolution in the regulatory environment small businesses operate.”

“I am proud to be the sponsor of the small business bill of rights,” said Karen Koslowitz, Chair of the Consumer Affairs Committee. “Small businesses are the lifeline to the city’s economy. This bill will empower business owners with their rights by guaranteeing consistent enforcement of agency rules, fair inspections, and the ability to contest a violation. This bill is just the beginning of a movement by Speaker Quinn and my council colleagues aimed at improving the business environment of our small merchants.”

“It is no secret to anyone that small businesses are the economic engine of our City,” said Council Member Diana Reyna, Chair of the Small Business Committee. “Small businesses account for 98% of all businesses and employ a little over 1.5 million people, which makes up more than half of the City’s entire private sector workforce. Technical assistance and support services are crucial to this community and that’s why I want, as chair of the small business committee, to focus on what we can do to provide these businesses with the “know how” to succeed. For example, if a business doesn’t know how to obtain the necessary licenses and permits, what laws apply to their business, how to negotiate a lease, how to acquire legal assistance or how to train their employees, it doesn’t matter whether they have easy access to capital or a steady cash flow, because any business that doesn’t have the “know how” is likely to fail at some point.”

“By reviewing, simplifying and even eliminating burdensome and cumbersome regulations, the City of New York can shorten the time it takes start-ups to open for business, help existing businesses keep their doors open, or allow businesses to use vital and precious time to work on plans to obtain credit, expand and ultimately create jobs and put New Yorker’s back to work,” said Councilman Thomas White Jr. Chair of the Economic Development Committee.

“I appreciate the efforts that the Members of the Regulatory Review Panel have made to streamline how city agencies interact with small businesses with a focus on strengthening customer service,” Council Member Gale Brewer said. “I especially support education and warnings that give well-trained inspectors the opportunity to explain the city’s rules and regulations, while giving the business owner the opportunity to fix the problem before being automatically fined.”

Local Law 45 of 2009 established the Regulatory Review Panel in July 2009. Its members are: Counselor to the Mayor and Panel Chair Anthony Crowell, Council Members Leroy G. Comrie, Jr. and James Oddo, former Council Member David Yassky, Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, Mayor’s Office of Operations Director Jeff Kay, Small Business Services Commissioner Robert W. Walsh, Mayor’s Office of Management and Budget Director Mark Page, Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, and Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement Director Shari Hyman.

The Regulatory Review Panel will continue to work with agencies and the City Council to implement the new measures. It will also share its findings and recommendations with other City entities working to enhance customer service for businesses. These entities include: the New Business Acceleration Team, a new division within the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement that is charged with helping small businesses open more quickly by expediting the required permits, licenses and inspections; and the Mayor’s Office of Operations, which Mayor Bloomberg tasked with simplifying the way New Yorkers, including small business owners, access City government.