10 months ago

Oklahoma to consider occupational licensing reforms

By Caleb R. Trotter Attorney

Earlier this month, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin announced the formation of a task force to review the state’s occupational licensing requirements. Throughout 2017 the task force will comprehensively review all of Oklahoma’s occupational licenses with an eye toward determining whether the amount and degree of licensing is necessary, and which professional barriers are too burdensome in relation to public health and safety concerns. While any recommended changes won’t be expected until 2018, this is still a welcome development.

As of 2012, Oklahoma had the dubious distinction of maintaining the 11th most burdensome licensing laws in the United States. In middle to low-income professions requiring a license, an average of $116 in fees, over a year of training, and completion of two exams are required before a professional can simply go to work. The impact of such burdens is that many people—particularly those with low incomes, little formal education, and members of racial minority groups—are precluded from entering those professions, and consumers incur higher costs without much proven increase in quality. As a result, scaling back the amount and degree of licensing would allow more people to get to work, and lower prices paid by consumers. In a year in which Oklahoma’s unemployment rate has increased by a full percent, lowered barriers to employment would be most welcome.

In any event, Governor Fallin deserves applause for initiating action on occupational licensing, but she should also look at other areas where Oklahoma laws stifle opportunity and keep people from earning a living in the state. One example is a law that Pacific Legal Foundation is currently challenging on behalf of award-winning American Indian artist Peggy Fontenot. In short, Oklahoma should ensure that any time lawmakers seek to enact a law that will limit someone’s right to earn a living, they do so in the least restrictive manner necessary. All too often, regulators start with the most restrictive form (e.g. occupational licensing) when other, less restrictive means like registration and voluntary certification would serve the public interest just as well or better. PLF looks forward to seeing the results of the task force and increased prosperity for Oklahomans and those doing business in the state.

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Fontenot v. Hunter, Attorney General of Oklahoma

Peggy Fontenot is an award-winning American Indian photographer and artist, specializing in hand-made beaded jewelry and cultural items. A member of Virginia’s Patawomeck tribe, she has made her living for 30 years traveling the country to show and sell her American Indian art. She regularly participated in Oklahoma art festivals until local, politically-connected tribes convinced the state legislature to restrict the definition of “Indian tribe” to include only those tribes recognized by the federal government. The restriction was ostensibly to prevent the marketing and sale of art fraudulently described as “American Indian-made.” However, as a result of this law, Ms. Fontenot – a legitimate member of a state-recognized tribe – may no longer truthfully describe her art as “American Indian-made” in the state of Oklahoma.

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