The specter of occupational licensing is once again growing in North Carolina, threatening to make it harder for people to find work. In this case the culprit is SB 447, a bill that would dramatically increase the licensing and regulation of landscape contractors in North Carolina. The bill was passed by the House Commerce Committee on June 27th, and has been re-referred to House Finance Committee for further consideration.
The bill would dramatically expand the definition of landscape contractor in order to regulate more and more businesses that engage in yard work. The current statute includes a limited definition of landscape contractors and mainly deals with registering those who actually operate a business which calls itself a landscape contractor. The new law would insert a much more expansive definition of landscaping work that requires a license. The bill would add “horticulture consultation,” “planting design,” and installing “low voltage lighting systems” and other categories to the occupations requiring a license.
The Institute for Justice currently rates North Carolina’s Landscape Contractor’s license as the fifth most burdensome in the state. Indeed, the education requirements for landscape contractors are so extreme that they were among the ones I highlighted in my recent series of articles on occupational licensing: Held Back by Red Tape. SB 447 will only increase these burdens by expanding them to more people. SB 447 also authorizes the landscape licensing Board to increase fees to $225 from the current $195 in order to get a license.
While landscape contracting has been licensed in North Carolina since 1975, according to an Institute for Justice study the profession is only licensed in nine other states. Among the 10 states that do license landscape contractors, North Carolina’s licensing program is among the most burdensome, requiring three years of education and experience before full licensure. Seven of the 10 states have no education requirements. Of our neighboring states, only Georgia also requires a license.
According to the Institute of Justice, only two other states currently impose the licensing requirements being proposed in SB 447. One wonders how grass survives in those 48 states.
In truth this bill has nothing to do with protecting consumers or protecting the environment. It only protects one thing — the jobs of current landscape contractors. Touting SB 447, the NC Landscape Contractor License Committee claims on its website: “While the license establishes strict criteria for training, testing and continuing education, it also provides a fair and broad path for experienced, qualified landscape contractors to grandfather into the new license without the requirement of testing.” In short, the bill will ensure current contractors can remain in their jobs with minimal hardship, while making it dramatically harder for new entrants to become contractors.
The New York Times Magazine recently wrote about how occupational licensing is especially burdensome in today’s tough economy: “There’s little doubt that laid-off factory workers will find themselves increasingly looking for opportunities in landscape contracting, athletic training and in hundreds of other professions that require licenses.”
It is unsurprising that landscape contractors are trying to protect themselves from increasing competition, especially with North Carolina’s stubbornly high unemployment making normally low-cost startup jobs, such as landscape contracting, increasingly attractive.
Just because it is good for current contractors doesn’t make it good public policy. In fact, North Carolina needs to make it easier, not harder, to start business in fields like landscape contracting. It is one of the easiest things we can do to help people get productive jobs and get North Carolina back on track to becoming an economic leader in the South.
Protecting incumbents instead of promoting jobs for all North Carolinians makes SB 447 our Bad Bill of the Week.