by Ivy Main, cross-posted from Power for the People VA
The letter landed in email inboxes Monday morning like a grenade tucked into a plain manila envelope. In keeping with Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Directive Number One requiring agencies to eliminate 25% of government regulations “not mandated by federal or state statute,” the administration planned to take its axe to the building code.
Yes, the building code. The Board of Housing and Community Development has been told to remove a quarter of the rules that protect homes and businesses against fires, bad weather and shoddy workmanship.
The Board only last summer completed its triennial update of the Virginia building code, so you’d think they would have removed any unnecessary provisions already. But that’s not the point. The point is that the Axe of Freedom must fall wherever regulations gather in big bunches, and the building code is, by definition, a bunch of regulations.
Wasting no time, the board plans to meet on January 26 to kick off what it is calling “the reduction cycle.” Virginians will have a chance to comment, although in keeping with what I’ve found to be board practice, only the comments the board likes will count. And as the governor appoints the board members, successful opinions will be those that confirm Youngkin’s vision.
From that perspective, the building code is shot full of nanny state rubbish. It dictates things like safe wiring and roofs that don’t fly off in a storm and plumbing that actually works. The governor no doubt believes we can safely trust these kinds of things to profit-maximizing corporations without state inspectors second-guessing their work. (I assume the requirement for inspections also falls to the Axe. There is nothing more nanny-state than inspections.)
But if the government does away with standards, won’t builders cut corners? Yes, of course they will. That is the whole point, because then they can make more money. And making money is the ultimate conservative value, second only to owning the libs.
As for the people who wind up living in unsafe, flimsy firetraps, I expect the administration thinks it’s about time those snowflakes took personal responsibility for the quality of their homes. If they can’t correct hidden defects before a house erupts in flames or grows black mold or the basement floods, that’s on them.
Housing advocates worry the administration might especially target energy efficiency requirements, though Lord knows the board already watered those down plenty, and illegally so. But things can always get worse, and Youngkin seems committed to ensuring they do.
(Indeed, that would make a great tagline for Youngkin’s 25% initiative. “Glenn Youngkin: Making Virginia Government One-Quarter Worse.” Feel free to use it, governor, with my compliments.)
Anyway, excising the energy efficiency section of the housing code could be a retro move to appeal to old folks’ nostalgic yearning for the days when houses were so drafty you could feel a breeze with the windows closed. Maybe you never thought we’d let new homes get built that were like those of my childhood, where the kitchen pipes froze when the temperature plunged unless you put a hot water bottle in the cupboard under the sink and left the faucet dripping.
But here we are. Will the board also remove the bans on lead paint and asbestos insulation?
The building code may be the first place to look for regulations to cut, but reaching his 25% goal will require Youngkin to take the Axe of Freedom to regulations wherever they lurk. And they lurk all over the place. Virginia’s administrative code contains 24 titles.
One colleague suggests simply removing every fourth word from every section of every title, which would have the virtue of wreaking havoc with the entire Deep State bureaucracy at once. And it would keep lawyers busy! Though not everyone would appreciate that feature (and sure enough, my colleague is a lawyer).
Another easy option might be to just remove a quarter of the titles indiscriminately. Chopping off the last 6 of the 24 would eliminate the following:
• Public safety (creating an interesting experiment in anarchy)
• Public utilities and telecommunications (turning the management of these critical functions over to the private sector, but what could go wrong?)
• Securities and retail franchising (as I have only a dim idea of what those are all about, it’s okay by me, but I expect these things have their defenders)
• Social services (this could be dicey when combined with the anarchy thing)
• Taxation (a popular title to jettison, with the added benefit of making the rest of government unworkable) and
• Transportation and motor vehicles (which would either allow everyone to speed to their heart’s content, or mean no one would do road repair; we’d just have to see how that went)
You will object that I’m proposing a totally mindless approach to regulatory reform. On the contrary, I’m just trying to help implement the governor’s regulatory reform agenda using the same level of care and foresight he did.
Let the Axe of Freedom fall!
This article was published in the Virginia Mercury on January 25, 2023. Later that day, the Department of Housing and Community Development sent out another letter, this one scheduling an additional meeting for January 31 due to “quorum concerns” surrounding the upcoming January 26 meeting. No explanation was offered as to why board members had chosen to absent themselves.