By The Oklahoman Editorial Board
We have written many times of the need to reform state occupational licensing laws to ensure regulations don’t unnecessarily reduce market competition by driving up the cost of entering a profession. Progress on this front may be slow, but there are encouraging signs.
A state Occupational Licensing Task Force, created by Gov. Mary Fallin and chaired by Labor Commissioner Melissa McLawhorn Houston, has been researching licensing issues for several months. Among other things, the group has released a draft blueprint for evaluating whether government licensing of an occupation is necessary. The framework it proposes would be a step in the right direction.
The blueprint starts by asking a simple question of every licensing regulation: Is there a compelling public interest that needs to be protected? From there, the proposal calls for using the “least restrictive means that would sufficiently protect the public interest.” The blueprint lists 13 possible ways to protect the public interest, ranked from the least restrictive (market competition) to the most restrictive (occupational licensing).
In many instances, market competition alone may suffice to regulate professions instead of onerous licensing requirements.
The task force also is developing a database of every license the state issues. Users of that database can compare the requirements for all licenses, which will further highlight discrepancies. Some obvious examples of overregulation have already been identified.
In a recent blog, Courtney Cullison, a policy analyst with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, noted that Oklahomans wanting to get a license in cosmetology must first complete 1,500 hours of education and training. At the same time, emergency medical technicians need to complete only 252 hours of education and training.
That example comes from simply comparing Oklahoma regulations for one industry with state regulations for another. Once you compare Oklahoma requirements with the regulations imposed for identical professions in other states, other disparities become obvious.
“For example, a makeup artist needs 140 days of training in Oklahoma to be licensed, but this profession does not require a license at all in 14 states,” Cullison writes. “Are makeup artists in Oklahoma less likely to cause injury or harm than those in unlicensed states? A school bus driver needs a recommended 20 hours of training in Oklahoma, but a full year or more in 19 states. Are school children safer in those states that require more extensive training?”
If other states are surviving with far lower levels of regulation than what is imposed for any profession in Oklahoma, that alone suggests our regulations could stand to be overhauled or repealed.
Failure to reduce red tape has negative economic consequences, particularly for those at the lower rungs of the income ladder. When licensing fees and associated costs are significant, it becomes much more difficult for low-income Oklahomans to enter those professions and increase their earning power.
If there are valid, defensible reasons for occupational licensing requirements, that’s one thing. But Oklahoma can’t afford to preserve excessive regulation of industries that mostly serve as a barrier to gainful employment for many citizens. The state has enough economic challenges without adding self-inflicted wounds to the mix.