The tiny state boards that license and supervise Maryland businessmen and professionals further the financial interests of the industries they were created to regulate instead of protecting the consumer, according to a highly critical report issued yesterday.
The report by Maryland's Consumer Council concluded that the few board members particularly appointed to represent consumer interests lack the knowledge and training to counter the influence of industry representatives who form a majority of the boards.
"The regulatory process mainly benefits the regulated occupations and professions because of such deficiencies," said the council, a 10-member panel created in 1974 to advise the consumer protection division of the attorney general's office.
The council's report is the second attack on Maryland regulatory agencies in recent weeks. Last month, the state's legislative auditor citicized the Public Service Commission for failing "to deal effectively" with the utilities it regulates.
The latest report is directed at 34 small boards and commissions ranging from the Maryland Racing Commission to the Board of Barber Examiners. In 1970, all 34 panels were lumped together under the state Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Secretary of Licensing and Regulation William A. Urie, and advocate of greater consumer representation on the regulatory board, said he generally agrees with the council findings and welcomes the chance to reform the system.
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"I think there are a lot of vested interests on those boards," Urie said in an interview. "It puts the boards in a position of governing their own. Why do you think industry people are serving on the boards for nothing? It benefits their industry."
Acting Gov. Blair Lee III said at his weekly news conference that he plans to increase the number of consumer representatives on the board. Last fall, he publicly invited Marylands to send in applications for any board on which they have an interest in serving.
A 4-year-old state law requires the governor to appoint one or more consumer representatives to each board. The commissions now include 75 lay members; although their votes are outweighed on each panel by a majority of industry voices.
The boards have traditionally served as resting spots for Maryland's politically faithful, a fact noted in passing in the council's report: "The selection on consumer representatives as a form of political patronage is a practice whose time has passed."
The report said that consumer members generally assume their jobs without the background needed to play an effective role. They develop on "industry perception" because their only training comes from fellow board members from the industry.
That conclusion was drawn from a survey conducted by the council showing that 28 percent of all consumer members polled said their perceptions were "identical to that of industry members" and 17 percent denied being consumer representatives at all.
The survey "firmly underlines nonassertiveness of these members, their lack of advocacy skills and the lack of a coherent selection process all resulting in a regulatory system that reflects the vested rather than the public interest."
With the consumer members captives of the industry point of view, according to the report, the boards have become instruments for protecting occupations and professions that are supposedly regulated by them.
The boards often use "unnecessarily restrictive" application requirements to freeze out competitors within the industries they regulate, the report said, citing the case of some Maryland counties that lack master plumbers because of "obselescent licensing criteria."
Several of the licensing requirements of the boards, such as educational and training standards and minimum age and residency requirements, were criticized by the council for being "restrictive and beneficial only to the regulated industry.
To correct the problems, the report recommends a long list of reforms, including establishment of a pool of qualified potential consumer nominees put together by the council and a screening process for board appointments.
The council also proposes holding annual seminars to train consumer representatives and creation of a brochure to increase public awareness of the boards and commissions.