In 2007, David Hansen was a recent college graduate with an architect’s degree trying to make some money. He and his business partner, who was a licensed architect in Washington, started an architectural firm there. At the time, the economy was still sluggish and there was not a lot of construction. So, to earn some extra cash and to get the business going, they agreed to do marketing work for a property development company in Oregon.
Cognizant that they weren’t licensed architects in Oregon, they limited their work to creating drawings of potential developments for the sole purpose of attracting investors. The drawings were not architectural “blueprints” or “plans,” and could not be used for construction. In fact, if the development moved forward, the development company planned to hire Oregon-licensed architects to make the actual plans. David’s task was essentially to draw pretty pictures for marketing purposes. David and his partner were shocked, then, when the Oregon Board of Architect Examiners slapped them with a $30,000 dollar fine for practicing “architecture” without a license.
David’s story is just one example in a trend of licensing bodies interpreting their authority broadly to prevent people from competing with licensees. Both ends of the political spectrum are increasingly recognizing that occupational licensing has simply run amok. Advocates justify licensing laws in terms of public health and safety. But time and time again, studies have shown that in reality, these laws are often nothing more than entrenched business interests erecting barriers to competition. The result is to burden people who need economic opportunity, stifle innovation, and drive up prices for consumers. Worse, occupational licensing laws have a disproportionate effect on minorities and politically powerless groups, who do not have the clout to protect themselves from abusive legislation.
In some cases, licensing has become outright absurd. In California, for example, more training hours are required to become a cosmetologist (1,600 hours) than to become an EMT (160 hours). In Louisiana, you need to sit for an exam to get a license to be a florist. Of course, licensing boards have broad authority to impose requirements related to protecting public health or safety. But regulatory bodies often overreach their statutory authority for anti-competitive reasons that have no relationship to public welfare.
Under the Constitution, government can’t use its licensing powers just to dish out favors to entrenched business interests. David therefore challenged the Board of Architect Examiners’ fine and won at the Oregon Court of Appeals. Not content with losing, the Board appealed the case to the Supreme Court, who heard argument in the case in January. Now the Court is slated to decide whether drawing pretty pictures without a license can lead to $30,000 worth of fines. As David argued before the Court, such reasoning is not only absurd, it’s unconstitutional.
David wasn’t trying to skirt the law, he was trying to earn a living. He’s hopeful the Oregon Supreme Court will start reversing the trend of occupational licensing abuse.
Published by The Oregonian