By Cromwell Schubarth

Under its new Democratic leadership, the U.S. Senate's Small Business Committee will keep its spotlight trained on rules that hinder small firms, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) said yesterday.

"We need to find ways to lighten the burden of regulation," Kerry said after speaking at a Small Business Administration event in Boston.

Kerry is in line to become chairman of the panel in the wake of the Senate power shift caused by Vermont Sen. James Jefford's decision to bolt the Republican Party.

Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond (R-Mo.) has led the panel since 1995.

The impact of environmental rules on small firms is one area that Kerry said needs to be examined.

"Sometimes, environmental regulations that work well when applied to big business just don't fit small business," he said.

Lobbyists for small-business operators said they were happy to hear of Kerry's intent.

"The small-business committee is most important as a place to showcase problems that need to be addressed," said Chris Myers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's director of congressional and public affairs in Washington.

"Sen. Bond focused a lot on regulatory problems and we would welcome it if Kerry continues with that when he takes over," Myers said.