Though we often associate government with excessive regulation, in a surprising twist, the Wisconsin legislature is considering a much needed measure to deregulate. AB 116 would prevent all cities, villages, towns, and counties in Wisconsin from enacting any new occupational fees or licensing requirements. One interesting added feature to the bill completely removes local occupational regulations on photographers-why photographers were regulated in the first place is another matter. The unfortunate truth is that occupational licensing of industries that would function fine on their own is rampant in the United States. In case you’re wondering what other kinds of occupations are regulated by cities: tour guides, yard workers, and food trucks come to mind. As PLF attorney Timothy Sandefur testified in front of the U.S. Senate last week, these laws typically have a particularly harmful effect on those who need economic opportunity the most: minority groups and the politically powerless.
A law that removes the ability for some governments to license occupations is therefore welcome news. According to a recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics study it is rare for an occupation to be deregulated at the state level. The study found that over the last 40 years only 8 occupational licenses were removed by a state legislature-likely because existing businesses have a strong interest in ensuring that barriers to entry remain on the books to prevent new competition. Even worse, in 4 of those instances, shortly after the license restrictions were removed, attempts were made to relicense the occupation.
Which brings us back to Wisconsin AB 116. The bill was introduced in March 2015, but has unfortunately yet to come to a vote. At this point it is not clear if it will get a vote, or even have enough votes to pass once it does. However, it is a small step that could get around the state-level interest groups who so successfully prevent their occupations from being deregulated on a larger scale. In this case, though, it’s not the interest groups that may be problematic. Municipalities themselves are opposed to losing their ability to license new
occupations. Time will tell if Wisconsin municipalities hold as much sway over legislators in the state house as industry insiders. Nevertheless, it’s good to see another method available to liberty-friendly legislators to protect the right to earn a living.