Bunny ‘tale’ shows how regulations can go wrong

Red tape is the one thing that children’s magician Marty Hahne can’t make disappear.

As a story from the Washington Post details, Hahne recently received a letter from the U.S. Department of Agriculture informing him that if he wanted to keep his license for the rabbit he uses in his act – yes, you apparently need a federal license for that – then he needed to develop a disaster plan for how he would ensure the rabbit’s wellbeing in various catastrophes.

Hahne’s case shows how well-meaning laws written by Congress can go horribly awry in the hands of federal regulators.

Back in the 1960s, Congress passed a law requiring laboratories to have licenses for animals used in research. A few years later, the law was amended to cover animal “exhibitors” – presumably large operations like circuses and zoos.

That’s where regulators took over. In their efforts to protect animals they went far beyond Congress’s intent to regulate the largest exhibitors. The USDA eventually cracked down on those with just a few animals. And in 2005 an inspector walked up to Hahne and asked to see his license. Hahne had no idea what the inspector meant.

It turned out he needed to have a license to use his rabbit in his show. Hahne secured the license, and figured that would be the end of it. But as we all-too-often see, regulators continued to ratchet up the requirements – presenting an always moving target for compliance that small business owners must meet.

In January, under a law stemming from animals abandoned during Hurricane Katrina, the USDA issued a rule requiring those with licenses to have disaster plans for their animals – even magicians with one rabbit. A safety expert has volunteered to write Hahne’s plan. It currently stands at 28 pages, which you can read for yourself on the Post’s website.

In response to the story, the USDA is now reconsidering the requirement for disaster plans. Presumably, those with one or two animals, or maybe even five, might be exempt from the requirement.

Hahne’s story is a perfect example of the difficulty and frustration small business owners face every day trying to comply with regulations. Many entrepreneurs simply have no idea that a seemingly innocuous activity they engage in regularly is regulated by a government agency. And if they do, they face a never-ending struggle to keep up as the requirements become tougher and tougher.

Small business owners are simply too busy trying to make a living and keep their companies afloat to spend their day poring through the Federal Register, where every day federal agencies add about 15 new final rules to the Code of Federal Regulations.

Has your business been affected by a ridiculous regulation like the one that vexed Marty the Magician? If so, NFIB’s Small Businesses for Sensible Regulations campaign would love to hear about it.

Update: On July 31, the USDA published a notice in the Federal Register announcing that it has stayed the rule until it can give the issue further consideration.

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About Dan Bosch

Dan Bosch, Manager of Regulatory Policy, has been in this role since October 2010. Dan is based in NFIB’s Washington, DC office. His primary responsibilities include identifying federal regulatory issues that impact NFIB’s small business-owner members, filing comments with federal agencies, and educating Capitol Hill staff on how small businesses are impacted by federal regulation. Dan also works closely with representatives of other industry groups on regulatory issues that affect businesses in various industries. Prior to his current role, Dan worked for NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center for five years. He is a graduate of Syracuse University and has a Master of Public Administration degree from The American University.
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