Ending unnecessary licensing is about your right to make a living

Ours is a pretty divided nation these days, it’s hard to deny. That makes it all the more heartening to see issues where there is growing consensus in both parties.

We’ve seen that in Republicans and Democrats alike rethinking our civil asset forfeiture laws (though the president has expressed some support for them). They’re questioning the propriety of seizing the property of people who have not been convicted of a crime.

There is renewed attention as well on people’s right to make a living, specifically by removing unnecessary occupational licensing schemes. Too often, these license requirements serve little purpose beyond being a barrier to keep people out of the market. Rep. Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg), who takes matters of economic freedom seriously, has a new bill aimed at unneeded restrictions.

Keeping potential competitors out for “health and safety”
In many cases, established businesses are only too happy to block potential competitors from offering their services. Occupational licenses are one anti-competitive tool, and the results are bad for consumers and for entrepreneurs.

We’ve seen some of these fights play out in Olympia in recent years, notably over what procedures and consultations different levels of medical professionals are allowed to perform. Clearly there are health and safety implications to some of those decisions, which is the most commonly cited reason for the need for licensing.

But frequently, “health and safety” is just an excuse. No one doubts that, say, surgeons need to be thoroughly trained and licensed. But what about boxing announcers? Washington state requires they be licensed, along with auctioneers, landscape architects, and a host of other occupations.

For many years, hair braiders needed a full cosmetology license (an unnecessary barrier that was only fixed due to an Institute for Justice lawsuit). The requirement was justified on health and safety grounds. But what was the public protected from by requiring 1,600 hours of cosmetology instruction and for braiders to pass a licensing exam focused on equipment cleaning and hair dye chemicals?

The only “protection” was for cosmetology school operators and those who already had their cosmetology license. Something as simple and harmless as braiding hair should not require thousands of dollars spent on schooling and a stamp of approval from the state.

A license implies oversight, but frequently that isn’t the case
Licensing also implies that the state is performing oversight, but frequently that isn’t the case. Todd Myers, who helped draft the bill with Manweller, testified this week that even though plenty of complaints are filed with the state against landscape architect firms, “in the last three years there is a total of zero investigations.” He also offered an illustrative story:

“I happened to mention this to my wife last night when I was putting my testimony together and she said, ‘Oh yeah, I filed a complaint two months ago [about] a landscape architect, but I did it with the Better Business Bureau.’ The reputational value of Yelp, Better Business Bureau, and things like that are being used, and the current occupational licensing system is simply not for landscape architecture.”

Online reviews are far more important to a business’s reputation than anything the state is doing – or, as Myers pointed out, not doing. Yelp and the Better Business Bureau have a larger impact, and the state doesn’t have the resources to conduct investigations. If a state license doesn’t involve oversight or resolving problems, isn’t it falsely giving an imprimatur of expertise or honest-dealing?

When a license is merely a matter of checking off all the boxes and paying the state, it’s just paperwork. It’s a barrier that especially hurts low-income entrepreneurs who just want to work to provide for their families. Kudos to Manweller and company for standing up for these embodiments of American hustle.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.
  • JUSTJOE_P

    They should also look at the requirements for becoming a teacher in our public schools. So many career retired people could be teachers just on the basis of years of experience. Their knowledge is barred from our schools for political reasons rather than actual qualification. The current schools of education turn out teachers who have book learning but too often little knowledge of how this applies to the real world. Experienced career people would only be a danger to the Education Establishment who foster such failures as: No Child left Behind and Common Core which are politically inspired rather than motivational tools for learning excellence.

  • jp

    As to Todd Myer’s anecdotal testimony- I’m going to guess that his wife filed a complaint against a landscape installer, not a landscape architect. If I do a bad job as a landscape architect a bad Yelp review or a better business review will not affect me nearly as much as having my license revoked, which will force me to shutter my business. I sat in that public hearing and I got the distinct feeling that Rep. Manweller and Mr. Myers really had no idea what landscape architects do or the services that they provide.

  • lg

    I agree with JP, a bad yelp review will not affect our business nearly as much as having my license to practice as a Landscape Architect revoked, especially since it will affect our ability to competitively conduct business throughout the country. As a professionally licensed Landscape Architect and Urban Designer, whose
    work is all related to the design and construction of public open
    spaces and multi-modal thoroughfares, I can definitively say that our
    work affects public safety and welfare to a high degree.

    Perhaps I misread this but it seems that Mr McKenna is implying that our licensing consists of…” merely a matter of checking off all the boxes and paying the state, it’s just paperwork”…huh? I don’t see where either a required amount of time working under a licensed professional (years), or an accredited university degree, plus months of studying for 3 days of examinations (when I took my licensing exam), could be equated to “checking boxes” and “just paperwork”. This is not something that hurts low income entrepreneurs, it took hard work to get that license, not money.

    • anon_the_mouse

      It is the change in society that has deluded the systems for licensure themselves. The military is a prime example of how civilian practices can devalue a segment of veterans in the future. Case in point – what was formerly known as a enlisted “Clinical Specialist” was an advanced trained medic. This training was in the hands of some of the most sadistic, cynical, and perverted nurses in the army. But by god you learned they core without a doubt and could perform many skills and technical procedures better than some of the specialist groups could their own processes. In the 80′ DOD caved into the Nurses union and lobbyists and made all Clinical Specialists become Licensed. My Course was in 1975, in 1988 I sat for the State Licensure Board for practical nurses in Oklahoma. I spent the last of my Mil career in Washington with a State license, and in later years went into geriatric care, advanced wound care, and pharmalogical research. In 2004 I had seen the nursing profession degrade so much by lessening the standards.

  • anon_the_mouse

    I was looking for some white electrical tape at the local home depot last week. Couldn’t find it with all the other tapes in the section, I happened to as a young man going by, who had an electricians tool belt on, if he knew where it might be. And at that time got to the end of an aisle and there was the display of the code tapes. His answer and I SH*t you not was -“what is that for/”. I asked if he as a licensed contractor and he said “yes, electrical”. After I explained to him the uses he immediately bought a full set. So maybe a flow sheet checklist is not an acceptable threshold for licensure, knowledge through applied apprenticeship and education at middle and high school would be a start.

  • Dorothy

    Please reconsider including landscape architects in your bill to do away with licensing. You may be confused – landscape architects and landscape designers are different. Landscape architects have a degree in landscape architecture and have passed a licensing licensing exam while landscape designers can be self taught. Landscape architects usually work on larger projects, helping to design developments, transit systems and a wide variety of outdoor environments while landscape designers usually focus on residential. Potential customers have the right to choose who they want to work with. This does not adversely affect the free market economy.

  • David Preston

    This is pure CRAP!! As a licensed insurance Broker (I am one) is only take 4 days of classes and then a test. Then a broker can do serious financial damage if they do not know what they are doing. A bad hair cut usually corrects itself in 8 weeks.

    • Kimberly W.

      Ha! Insurance brokers are just criminals with paperwork.

  • Kristin K

    People can be Landscape Designers if they don’t want to get licensed. Most small projects do not require stamped and signed drawings from Landscape Architects. They are required when codes need to be met. Licensure assures that the designers are able to address codes thoroughly and reduces the client’s risks and liability.