Sometimes there ought not be a law

April 22, 2017 | By LARRY SALZMAN

Government regulation often begins when someone spots a social problem, or just something they don’t like, and pronounces, “There ought to be a law!” to end it. Over time, laws can accumulate, outlasting any rational purpose, requiring repeal. Sometimes there ought not be a law. That’s the spirit of Senate Bill 247, a bill that aims to eliminate unnecessary occupational licensing laws that stop qualified people from working at the job of their choosing.

Occupational licensing laws are regulations requiring individuals to get government approval before they can work. The historical justification for licensing laws has been the protection of public health and safety. We license doctors and dentists, for example, to mandate proper training and education. Sometimes professionals have a special relationship of trust with clients, which has justified licensing: think lawyers, psychologists and financial brokers.

But since the 1950s there’s been an explosion of new licensing laws, stifling the aspirations of individuals who are merely seeking to work in ordinary occupations. California requires a license to be a tree trimmer, a landscaper or to be a make-up artist, for example. Other states require licenses to do harmless work as an interior designer, a florist or to braid hair.

In 1950, about one in 20 workers needed a license to do their job; today it’s closer to one in three. These laws typically impose expensive (and very often irrelevant) education and training requirements, license fees, tests or require individuals to work as apprentices for long periods of time rather than start their own independent businesses.

These burdens are often just enough to frustrate or deny opportunities in occupations seized on by people with lower skills and little capital, but willing to work hard to grasp the first rung on America’s economic ladder to the middle class. Government barriers to work in these fields is a tremendous injustice.

Shockingly, many current licensing laws bear no reasonable relationship to health or safety. Instead, burdensome licensing requirements are lobbied for by existing businesses and professionals in order to insulate themselves from new competition. The laws eliminate opportunities for workers otherwise qualified to do the jobs, but also tend to raise prices and reduce consumer choices. Some license requirements have been struck down in recent years by courts as violations of economic liberty, but the trend is for an increasing number of occupations to be licensed.

Both Republicans and Democrats — at both the state and national level — have called for a reconsideration of occupational licensing, to eliminate regulations that are effectively mere cronyism. President Obama’s White House, for instance, issued a report naming unnecessary occupational licensing a serious civil rights issue. In California, the Little Hoover Commission, a government agency tasked with reviewing regulations and making recommendations to the Legislature, has called for a review of the state’s occupational licensing laws.

SB247 aims to eliminate or reduce unduly burdensome licensing requirements for ordinary occupations, including hearing aid dispensers, locksmiths, upholsterers and tree trimmers. It would also prohibit local governments from adding new occupational licensing requirements. The bill is focused on jobs that do not pose a significant risk to public health or safety.

About a half-dozen states have recently enacted similar legislation — and there is a growing roster of legislation pending in yet more states. For instance, Arizona enacted legislation just this month requiring licensing boards to do a thorough review of its licensing requirements and eliminate those aimed more at protecting the profits of existing firms than protecting public safety. Wisconsin last year prohibited municipalities from creating new license requirements or fees. In Tennessee, a new law was signed limiting new license requirements and requiring an annual “comprehensive review of all” occupational licensing requirements to ensure that they continue to an important “health, safety or welfare” objective.

California’s vibrancy depends on economic liberty. We should be leading the charge to reform occupational licensing that stifles opportunities for our citizens. SB247 is a good first step and an important signal that our state is a good place to do business and start a career.

Published by The Orange County Register