July 6, 2017

A Snapshot of Nebraska Regulation in 2017

It would take an ordinary person more than three years to read the entire US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which contained more than 112 million words in 2017. The sheer size of the CFR poses a problem not just for the individuals and businesses that want to stay in compliance with the law, but also for anyone interested in understanding the consequences of this massive system of rules. States also have sizable regulatory codes, which add an additional layer to the enormous body of federal regulation. A prime example is the online version of the 2017 Nebraska Administrative Code (NAC).

A tool known as State RegData—a platform for analyzing and quantifying state regulatory text—was developed by researchers at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. State RegData captures information in minutes that would take an ordinary person hours, weeks, or even years. For example, the tool allows researchers to identify the industries most targeted by state regulation by connecting text relevant to those industries with counts of words known as regulatory restrictions. These are words and phrases like “shall,” “must,” “may not,” “prohibited,” and “required” that can signify legal constraints and obligations. As shown in figure 1, the top three industries with the highest estimates of industry-relevant restrictions in the 2017 NAC are ambulatory healthcare services, nursing and residential care facilities, and chemical manufacturing.

State RegData also reveals that the NAC contains 100,627 restrictions and roughly 7.5 million words. It would take an individual about 418 hours—or more than 10 weeks—to read the entire NAC. That’s assuming the reader spends 40 hours per week reading and reads at a rate of 300 words per minute. For comparison, in 2017 there were more than 1.15 million additional restrictions in the federal code. Individuals and businesses in Nebraska must navigate all of these restrictions to remain in compliance.

The rules in the online NAC are organized based on the state agency, department, or commission that has written them. Figure 2 shows that in 2017, rules from the Department of Health and Human Services contained more than 37,000 restrictions. By this measure, this is the biggest regulator in Nebraska. The Department of Environmental Quality is the second biggest regulator with more than 8,500 restrictions.

Federal regulation tends to attract the most headlines, but it is important to remember that the more than 112 million words and 1.15 million restrictions in the federal code are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the true scope of regulation in the United States. States like Nebraska write millions of additional words of regulation and hundreds of thousands of additional restrictions. State-level requirements carry the force of law to restrict individuals and businesses just as federal ones do.

Researchers are only beginning to understand the consequences of the massive and growing federal regulatory system on economic growth and well-being in the United States. Meanwhile, the effects of state regulation remain largely unknown. If this snapshot of Nebraska regulation in 2017 is a good indicator, then the states are also active regulators, suggesting the true impact of regulation on society is far greater than that of federal regulation alone.

Researchers are only beginning to understand the consequences of the massive and growing federal regulatory system on economic growth and well-being in the United States. Meanwhile, the effects of state regulation remain largely unknown. If this snapshot of Nebraska regulation in 2017 is a good indicator, then the states are also active regulators, suggesting the true impact of regulation on society is far greater than that of federal regulation alone.