Oklahoma job licensing changes won’t happen easily (News OK)

By The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The state Department of Labor has begun the overdue work of reviewing job licensing requirements in Oklahoma, with an eye on perhaps changing some of those requirements. An initial public meeting about the idea offered a glimpse of how difficult it could be to make much of a dent.

The meeting last week was meant primarily to discuss a blueprint that a task force is developing for evaluating licensing requirements, and not so much to debate the issue of deregulation. But it steered more toward the latter than the former.

Several representatives from the locksmith industry attended, including the chairman of that group’s legislative action committee, Lowell Roberts. His disdain for the task force’s work seemed evident when he said, “If in your infinite wisdom” the panel eliminates licensing for locksmiths, it at least require background checks.

“Do you want a child molester, a rapist in your mother’s home or your daughter’s home working?” Roberts said.

Yet people in all walks of life commit crimes; it’s unclear how easing or changing licensing requirements would affect that.

The reality is that licensing regulations often are designed to protect existing businesses from industry competition. They can be a particularly heavy burden on lower-income folks, former convicts and military families. Military families move often, and the rules in place for one profession in one state are often not the same in other states.

These same arguments were made by two people on opposite ends of the ideological spectrum — Courtney Cullison with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, and Tom Newell with the Foundation for Government Accountability, which is a pro-business group. Both strongly spoke in support of the task force’s work.

We wrote not long ago about an Institute for Justice report that analyzed 102 lower-income occupations across the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Oklahoma requires licenses for 29 of the jobs IJ studied, which ranked the state in the bottom 10 nationally. But Oklahoma has the 11th-most burdensome licensing laws, IJ found, requiring an average of $116 in fees and 416 days of training.

Hair braiding is one often-noted example of the challenges presented by some occupational licenses. In Oklahoma, the IJ says, hair braiders must obtain a specialty “technician” license, which involves 600 hours of coursework and passing a practical and written test.

At last week’s meeting, a salon owner said there were good reasons for the government to oversee her profession. Those who work in cosmetology, which requires 1,500 hours of study to become licensed, must know how to avoid chemical burns, infection and skin pigmentation problems, and other things. “We do a lot more than just cut hair,” she said.

No doubt that’s true. It’s also true that there are likely any number of professions whose licensing requirements can be improved in order to provide a path to putting more Oklahomans to work. This is at the center of what the task force is trying to accomplish, and we wish its members good luck.



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.

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