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EDITORIAL: Regulators need a light touch on new biz rules

Nevada’s small-business owners face numerous challenges to simply survive their foray down the coronavirus gantlet. As they begin to reopen, regulators need to use common sense when assessing how these companies are operating during these unprecedented times.

After a nearly two-month economic shutdown, Gov. Steve Sisolak allowed certain “nonessential” businesses — restaurants, retailers, salons, barbers and others — to turn on the lights effective May 9 as long as they operated at 50 percent capacity, ensured social distancing and required face masks for employees. The structured restart led some customers to complain that selected entities weren’t following the rules.

“While the majority of our businesses are doing a great job,” Gov. Sisolak said last Friday, “we know that there are some that are not in compliance right now. Unfortunately, their negligence puts Nevadans at risk, and so there will be repercussions.”

The governor didn’t explain what those “repercussions” might be, nor did he reveal whether any Nevada businesses have been cited or sanctioned for misbehavior. But let’s hope action is taken against only the most egregious offenders, if at all.

These restrictions go above and beyond the typical regulatory requirements imposed on businesses. As such, many entrepreneurs are operating in the dark with little guidance on how to stay between the lines. It makes no sense from a recovery perspective for licensing boards or other regulators to swarm down on a restaurant, for instance, because a couple of tables are separated by only 5 feet instead of six. If consumers are uncomfortable, they may take their business elsewhere.

Fortunately, most Southern Nevada governments appear to favor the lighter touch. “Based on interviews and information from multiple enforcement agencies,” the Review-Journal’s Mike Shoro reported Monday, “the most common response to a business not following the rules appears to be a verbal warning or some form of education.”

That’s as it should be. A great many local businesses today are fighting for their futures. Policymakers and regulatory agencies should be focused on helping them successfully transition to this new environment rather than looking to bury them in a blizzard of social-distancing citations.

“All agencies agreed that our first method would be to educate folks,” Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick told the Review-Journal. “Nobody is trying to go out and fine everybody first. That’s the last thing we’re trying to do. We’re trying to help them.”

Amen. Because there will also be inevitable “repercussions” from policies that overburden small businesses that are already on the verge of going under.

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