by Christina Sandefur
Regular readers of this blog will recall that earlier this year, the Goldwater Institute led efforts in Arizona to protect from growing government interference the rights of responsible homeowners who want to work from home rather than in a traditional office. Home-based businesses empower people who are not able to work outside their homes to start businesses, earn and save money, maintain a flexible schedule, and realize their dreams of self-employment. And this isn’t a new concept: After all, lawyers, psychologists, and data entry technicians all work from their homes. The only thing that’s changed is that technological advances have made it possible for more people to work from home. Today, the typical home-based business is a quiet, responsibly run operation that neighbors never even notice.
Yet cities and counties nationwide are using outmoded zoning, licensing, and permit requirements to stifle these home-based businesses. This deprives people of economic opportunity and punishes responsible citizens. It also empowers meddlesome neighbors to divert limited city resources away from addressing genuine issues.
In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Jarrett Dieterle and Shoshana Weissmann of the R Street Institute explain that this problem is growing, and highlight the urgent need for reform. They tell the story of Kim O’Neil, a mom of two who tried desperately to comply with Chandler’s myriad regulations so she could run her unobtrusive medical billing business from her home when her father took ill. Kim’s business had no signs or commercial equipment, didn’t sell goods or store inventory, and wasn’t causing any noise, traffic, or parking issues. Even though she wasn’t changing the character of her neighborhood or bothering her neighbors, the city forced Kim through months of tedious back-and-forth, with ever-increasing demands and legal threats, until she eventually gave up. The ordeal, she said, was “one of the most stressful experiences of my life.”
Kim isn’t the only one who suffered through an unnecessary process. As we’ve previously blogged, Angie Hall left her lucrative 16-year corporate career to better people’s lives through yoga and meditation—only to have the city of Phoenix turn her dream into a nightmare, putting her through an exhausting procedure that made it impossible for her to work from home.
That’s why earlier this year, the Goldwater Institute and the Arizona Free Enterprise Club proposed the Home-Based Business Fairness Act, a state law that would modernize piecemeal and outmoded regulations in favor of a clear, consistent, and common-sense approach that allows local governments to focus on nuisance while embracing the new economy. The bill was sponsored by Arizona Representative Jeff Weninger. Both Kim and Angie shared their stories with Arizona lawmakers, urging them to support this reasonable solution. Unfortunately, the bill did not become law in Arizona because city bureaucrats, afraid of losing power, used scare tactics to perpetuate misunderstandings and falsehoods about what the bill would have done. But this issue isn’t going away.
Weissmann and Dieterle urge Arizona (and states coast to coast) to adopt the Home-Based Business Fairness Act because “operations like Ms. O’Neil’s are the sort of entrepreneurial endeavors that government should be supporting, not thwarting.” We couldn’t agree more!
Christina Sandefur is the Executive Vice President of the Goldwater Institute.