Bipartisan support evident for renewed license policy (Journal Record)

By Catherine Sweeney

OKLAHOMA CITY – When state Department of Labor officials introduced their push to update licensing laws, they said the movement had bipartisan support. That became clear during a panel discussion Wednesday.

Last week, officials announced they would create a blueprint for new licensing regulations so that lawmakers can gauge whether licensing is necessary or if there’s a less strict way to regulate an industry. For example, they could mandate a registration, which doesn’t require the same amount of costly training. They could also allow the workers to get certified through a trade organization and let that stand. The move has sparked a conversation on whether the state should reassess some of the licensing requirements already on the books.

A few speakers came in, including one from a national libertarian organization and a few from local policy think tanks. They noted their political leanings and often made jokes about them.

Tom Newell resigned from his state representative post before the legislative session began to work for the Foundation for Government Accountability. That is a conservative national think tank that advocates for limited government spending. He sat next to Courtney Cullison, a policy analyst at the progressive Oklahoma Policy Institute.

“This is an area where we actually agree,” he said.

Panel speakers said overly strict occupational licensing requirements hinder residents who are trying to climb out of poverty. Although the annual fees to cover licensing can cost as much as a week’s worth of groceries, many of them said that wasn’t the most vital issue. They instead focused on the cost of training, the logistical issues that might arise when a poor worker attempts to get licensed and unintended consequences, such as limited interstate mobility.

Paul Avelar represented the Institute for Justice, a national law firm that uses litigation to lobby for more libertarian policies. He opened by discussing how the Obama and Trump administrations both dedicated resources to reducing occupational licensing burdens. Each expressed the view that those burdens keep low-income Americans out of productive careers, he said.

Avelar said that burden has grown over time, and not because more workers are gravitating toward licensed work. In the 1950s, he said, about 5 percent of the country’s filled positions required a license. Today, that number hovers near 25 percent. Those don’t always make sense, he said. For example, most states require more training hours for a barber than they do for emergency medical technicians.

Cullison noted that low-income families already face significant barriers to high-paying jobs. They’re less likely to attain high levels of education, which makes it difficult for them to navigate bureaucratic structures. Housing instability hampers their ability to list a permanent address, and low access to transportation makes getting to work hard. They’re less likely to have capital on hand to invest in their careers. Licensing exacerbates these problems.
“Occupational licensing is just another barrier,” she said.

Licensing increases the amount of bureaucratic busy work and the need for a permanent address. Residents need transportation to go from place to place for training and to drop off forms. The training for some jobs can cost thousands of dollars, she said.

The training is perhaps the highest financial barrier. For example, she said, a cosmetologist in Oklahoma is required to spend 1,500 hours in training, which can cost more than $3,000 at a public tech school. She said one of her top recommendations would be to review education requirements for several industries.

Newell noted that it’s common for states to require residents to go through licensing again when they move across state lines. That’s particularly hard for military families, which he said are 10 times more likely to move in a given year than those working in civilian positions. For their spouses, licensing every 18 to 24 months can prove cost-prohibitive.


Margaret (Maggie) den Harder obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Christian Theology from Seattle Pacific University and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Oklahoma. Originally from the Pacific Northwest area of Washington state, Maggie has called Tulsa home for the past 8 years. Since living in Tulsa, Maggie has worked in the legal field, higher education administration, and the nonprofit sector as well as actively volunteering in the community. Maggie also recently spent time at the City of Tulsa as a consultant and wrote the content for Resilient Tulsa, an action-oriented strategy designed to better equity in Tulsa. Through her work, community involvement, and personal experiences, Maggie is interested in the intersection of the law and mental health and addiction treatment issues, preventative and diversion programs, and maternal mental health, particularly post-partum depression and post-partum psychosis. While working at Oklahoma Policy Institute as a research intern, Maggie further developed an interest in family dynamics and stability, economic security-related stress, and intergenerational trauma.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.