State legislatures should hold their occupational licensing boards accountable

February 14, 2022 | By DANIEL DEW
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Occupational licenses, which impact a wide variety of professions, require workers to obtain state-issued “permission slips” before working in their desired fields.

Often, if not always, the state licensing boards with the authority to accept and deny license applications as they please are stacked with individuals representing special interest groups—the same groups that have a vested interest in keeping out new competition.

In Oklahoma, licensing board members are selected by the governor. He must choose from a list of recommendations given to him by none other than the special interests that the board members are supposed to be regulating.

My colleagues Elizabeth Slattery and Stephen Slivinski recently wrote an op-ed for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma’s largest daily newspaper, about why licensing boards must be accountable to the people they serve. As they point out:

“…limiting who the governor may choose cuts against democratic accountability and tightens the grip of special interests on these boards.”

As of now, the licensing boards simply have too much power. Because the boards’ members are unelected, they are essentially immune from accountability.

As Slattery and Slivinski write:

“Ultimately, as the state’s chief executive, the governor should be held responsible for selecting board members, but the current law limits who the governor may appoint. As that law now stands, he can potentially shift the blame to an unaccountable board if it takes actions the public dislikes.”

Fortunately, there is a solution to this problem.

In January, State Senator Julie Daniels introduced six bills that would abolish the requirement to choose board members from the limited list provided by the current board. The bills are aimed specifically at the State Board of Medical Licensure and SupervisionOklahoma Board of NursingState Board of Examiners in PsychologyState Board of PharmacyState Geographic Information System Council, and Oklahoma Partnership for School Readiness Board.

Three of the bills passed out of committee and will now make their way to the Senate for a vote.

If passed, these bills will help protect professionals from the practice of unelected boards standing in the way of their careers and, thus, their livelihoods. And with more competition in these various sectors, consumers have more quality and affordable options to choose from.

But Oklahoma isn’t the only state in need of reform.

Ursula Newell-Davis is a social worker in Louisiana who wanted to start a business teaching kids with special needs the basic life skills to help them thrive and stay off the streets while their parents are away.

Because of Louisiana’s licensing laws, Ursula was required to first apply for Facility Need Review approval, which means the applicant must prove that the proposed services are “necessary.”

But she was denied, despite evidence showing an increase in crimes by juveniles, pleas by city officials for more early-intervention efforts for juveniles, and studies showing that respite care can improve outcomes for both children and their families.

Ursula joined forces with Pacific Legal Foundation to fight back in the hopes she can provide the services that so many Louisiana families need.

Both Louisiana and Oklahoma show what happens when unelected licensing boards are given the authority to stand in the way of an individual providing valuable services to their community.

Hopefully, Oklahoma’s reforms will allow more people to follow their chosen profession and avoid the door being slammed on future entrepreneurs.