Politicians love to talk about how they “create” jobs. And at least two other states are taking action to cut back on occupational licensing, which puts unreasonable burdens on people who just want to work. But there’s little sign North Carolina is making similar progress.
Recently Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, issued an executive order aimed at cutting down licensing regulations in his state.
Ducey has ordered a bunch of state boards and commissions to review every requirement for each type of license, and justify licensing requirements that exceed national averages.
“Government should never stand in the way of someone’s efforts to start a new life or profession,” Ducey said.
Meanwhile, Mississippi has passed a law reforming occupational licensing, Reason.com reports. The key element of the law mandates that before instituting new licensing requirements the state must try less burdensome ways of protecting the public. Possible measures include leaving the matter to competition in the market; relying on consumer-rating systems such as those found online; or accepting private certification processes.
Those are encouraging steps. Sadly, here in the Tar Heel State licensing still seems well entrenched.
A Civitas report in 2012 found more than 700 professions require professional licensing in NC. Many of the licenses are completely superfluous and can’t be remotely defended on the (flimsy) grounds of “public safety.”
Getting such approval from state government is often a heavy burden for people trying to improve their lives, we noted in 2015. In North Carolina, manicurists must undergo 300 hours of training and pass an exam. Would-be auctioneers must either serve a two-year apprenticeship or receive the equivalent of 80 hours of classroom instruction. If you want to braid hair legally, you’ll need to spend 1,500 hours at a beauty school and pass an exam.
Not much as changed, and even attempts at reform seem very limited. As NC Capitol Connection has reported, in mid-March, state Senate approved Senate Bill 8, “Easing Occupational Licensing on Military Families.”
The bill would allow a military-trained applicant or the spouse of a service member to work for one year in a licensed occupation while applying for that license. However, the applicant must have performed the occupation in another jurisdiction that has requirements “substantially equivalent” to North Carolina’s.
SB8 passed the Senate and was sent to the House; at last report it was in the House Finance Committee.
But the bill itself, while well-intentioned, actually highlights the injustice of occupational licensing.
First, if an applicant can work in NC for a year with no license, why is the license needed? These professionals would have shown in action they are qualified and responsible; why should bureaucrats in Raleigh then say they can’t work here?
Second, why is a North Carolina license needed if another state has already certified that professional? After all, North Carolina reciprocates concealed-weapons permit privileges from any other state. If we accept other states’ standards for carrying heat, why can’t we accept other states’ standards for cutting hair, doing landscaping, and the hundreds of other jobs that require the approval of Big Brother in Raleigh?
Third, of course military families face special problems because they are so often transferred. But consider, for example, a professional whose spouse is transferred by a private corporation to NC. Shouldn’t there be a similar exemption for that person?
Then what about someone who moves here because of the booming economy and the presence of both mountains and beaches?
Finally, what about someone born here who just wants to practice a profession?
All this just brings out the crux of the problem: The vast majority of jobs covered by state licenses never pose a threat to the safety or well-being of the public. Many of the professions are self-regulated by professional organizations or existing laws. Finally, the market is a better safeguard than bureaucratic red tape.
Consider one bill introduced this year: House Bill 451, Regulate Massage and Bodywork Therapy Establishments.
Its avowed purpose is “to ensure the protection of the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens of this State receiving massage and bodywork therapy services.” It passed the House on first reading, and went to the Committee on Regulatory Reform.
Yet there’s no obvious need for such a law. If people get a bad massage, how are they harmed? They may be less relaxed than they hoped, but that’s not a health threat.
Then they’ll stop patronizing that business, or even post bad reviews online. Massage and bodywork establishments that provide subpar services will go out of business before a licensing board could even get the first form filled out.
Who likely has the most to gain from these licensing schemes? There is one class of suspects. In any field, large, established corporations can more easily absorb the costs and burdens of licensing. To smaller, newer competitors, dealing with more regulation is relatively much more expensive and difficult. It’s not unknown for big business to covertly support occupational licensing to hobble the competition.
In any case, we’ll see what happens in North Carolina with occupational licensing. At the moment, however, it looks as if Arizona and even Mississippi are far ahead of us. That’s bad news for thousands of North Carolinians who just want a chance to ply a profession and improve their lives.