SB 447: Making it Harder to Start Your Own Landscaping Business

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.

This article was posted in Bad Bill of the Week by Clark Riemer on June 27, 2012 at 3:10 PM.

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Comments on this article

  • 1

    Wyatt Jun 28, 2012 at 20:23

    What? Another job-killing bill? This is what the Republican legislature is giving North Carolina? Every Republican that votes for SB 447 should be defeated in November. I will work for that.

  • 2

    maryze foust
    maryze foust Jul 05, 2012 at 21:04

    I thought the nc congress would make laws to HELP the state survive.. Instead they are just making it harder for people who want to work to get a job or start a business? Please! if they want to keep their jobs they better start helping us find one.. taxing is what it is all about.. Greed by politicians to make sure the money keeps rolling in for their wasteful spending..I hope bev stays in long enough to veto that one..Oh, I forgot, she loves these kinds of bills..

  • 3

    witheld Jul 06, 2012 at 12:40

    This was not the first bill of its kind imposed upon the landscape industry in North Carolina. The Irrigation Contractor Law was passed in 2009. It requires irrigation professionals to pay for 10 credit hours of continuing education annually, 100 each for corporate AND personal license, buy an official stamp, only from the Board (100 dollars as well) display stickers on their trucks, take an exam ( 200) or have 10 references for grandfathering, with 10 years of industry experience required. Also, one must maintain a $10,000 bond. Many landscapers I spoke with were opposed to both licenses for many reasons. Meanwhile, most companies installing or working on irrigation are currently unlicensed.
    THis bill was unanimously passed, as was the landscape contractor bill, until it apparently died in a committee.

  • 4

    Rattlerjake Jul 25, 2012 at 10:05

    The problem I have with all of the bills and laws that get submitted, whether passed or not, is that these people have absolutely no experience or knowledge of the professions that the bills/laws affect. Their so called experts are usually individuals and established businesses who lobby for these bills/laws to prevent competition. This state and our country are truly a lost cause; our federal, state, and local governments are full of nothing more than greed and corruption.

  • 5

    Stop the bleeding
    Stop the bleeding Jul 12, 2013 at 21:41

    What gets me is that idiots that work for the city water depts and state employees are on this irrigation board have no clue what they are doing with these crazy rules.They must be getting a kick back from al the fees we must pay. Also, their code requirements if followed to the letter will add at least $1,500 to the cost of current systems which will price us legal installers out of the ballpark. Whats really sad is if one gets too vocal against the ideas of the board members, one gets sent a warning to keep quiet or else…

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