Occupational licensing has been a frequent target for our Bad Bill of the Week series, so it’s not surprising that we didn’t have to wait long into the 2013 General Assembly Session for a burdensome licensing bill to be filed in the General Assembly. The bill: S.B. 18 to “Amend Locksmith License Act/Raise Fee Ceiling.”
The primary bill sponsor is Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Davison).
According to the Institute of Justice (IJ), only 13 states require that locksmiths be licensed by a professional board. Of the 13 states that require licenses, North Carolina’s is already rated as the 3rd most onerous by IJ. Given that the vast majority of states do not require locksmiths to obtain a license, strengthening North Carolina’s already heavy-handed licensing requirement seems like a dubious proposition at best.
The bill severely limits the conditions under which a non-locksmith can open a locked door. The bill restricts exemptions for towing and lockout services and also requires that any person who by-passes a lock for a school, college, university, hospital, government facility, and apartment must be a licensed locksmith. This change would require all these facilities certify janitors and maintenance staff as licensed locksmiths, or hire an independent locksmith.
Most disconcertingly the bill states that a Police Officer or Fireman may perform lock-picking services “only when opening a locked door to a vehicle, home, or business in a life-threatening emergency or during investigation of a crime.” Pity the law-abiding citizen trapped behind a locked door who is not in imminent threat of dying, but is merely enduring a “dangerous” situation.
The bill triples the yearly fee for the issuance of a license or renewal from $100 to $300. According to the Institute for Justice, nationally the average fee an aspiring locksmith must pay is only $147 — less than half of the proposed fee for North Carolina. While the Locksmith Licensing Board has spent significantly more than it brought in through fees over the last few years, which might be an argument for raising the fees, the necessity of that spending is questionable. As I wrote in Part II of the Held Back by Red Tape Series last year:
A particularly egregious case arose when the NC Locksmith Licensing Board spent tens of thousands of dollars to hire a private investigator to find and pursue unlicensed locksmiths, even though no complaints were received from the public. The investigator opened 55 cases, all of which were for operating without a license or hiring unlicensed people, while the board took no disciplinary action against licensed practitioners of any sort. At the same time the Board was actively lobbying to increase penalties for unlicensed work and to close exemptions for towing and lockout services, as well as to raise license fees in order to pay for the investigations, which helped to put the board in the hole by almost $64,000.
As always with professional licensing bills, the stated justification is to protect the public from possible fraud. If the actions of unlicensed locksmiths were harming the public though, wouldn’t we expect to see some public outcry? But the Board received no complaints from the public. Instead of relying on complaints from the public, the board had to literally hire its own private investigator. Perhaps the Board should consider spending its money more responsibly before fees are raised.
For protecting incumbent locksmiths over free enterprise and even public safety, SB 18 is our “Bad Bill of The Week.”