Press Releases

Press Releases

ICYMI: Issa Licensing Reform "Could Do An Awful Lot Of Good For An Awful Lot of American Workers"

Press Release
Aug 15, 2017

As consensus continues to build on all sides of the aisle to roll back many of our nation's capricious and often unaccountable licensing requirements for Americans to work in particular fields, Michelle Cottle of the Atlantic takes a look at how these requirements are hurting American workers and how Congressman Issa and Senator Mike Lee's occupational licensing reform legislation could hold the key to "doing an awful lot of good for an awful lot of American workers."

Excerpts are below and the full piece is available here.

The Onerous, Arbitrary, Unaccountable World of Occupational Licensing
The Atlantic
August 13, 2017

I know what you’re thinking: What kind of sad creature considers occupational licensing a hot topic? But with more than one in four U.S. workers now required to hold such a license, the answer absolutely should be: everyone.

An occupational license is basically a government permission slip to do certain work. In many places, before one can become a makeup artist, taxidermist, massage therapist, and so on, one must first jump through a variety of hoops—attending classes, taking exams, and paying fees—mostly set at the state level. (Federal and local authorities are fringe players in this game.)


In theory, such licensing protects consumers from being harmed by incompetent or fraudulent providers. (No one wants to get deep into labor only to discover that her midwife can’t tell an umbilical cord from a baby toe.) In practice, however, the process has sprawled far beyond questions of public health and safety, morphing into an onerous, arbitrary, unaccountable mess that, in far too many cases, is less about consumer protection than about economic protectionism.

How does a state decide to license a particular occupation? Typically, workers in that field lobby legislators to establish such a system. Licensing requirements are then determined, and the system is overseen and enforced by a licensing board dominated by practitioners of said field. Any newcomer who attempts to enter that field without a proper license can be shut down by the board.

It’s not hard to spot the potential conflict here. For a practicing barber, auctioneer, or funeral attendant, there’s a clear incentive to limit new competitors. Existing practitioners control licensing boards. Licensing boards control the flow of new practitioners. And since the boards tend to be (very) loosely overseen by the state, they often operate with scant accountability. It’s a classic recipe for abuse.


Once licenses are on the books, it’s hard to get them off. Trade groups and training schools that benefit from the system lobby hard to keep them in place. Often, the judicial branch has to step in, which is what happened in 2015, when the Supreme Court ruled that the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners had overstepped in barring anyone but dentists from performing teeth whitening. Non-dentists had been charging less for the service, and dentists flipped out. Their licensing board issued cease-and-desist letters. In 2012, Obama’s Federal Trade Commission felt moved to file a complaint about the anti-competitive behavior.

Technically, the high court’s ruling said that the board in question was not closely connected enough to the state government to enjoy its antitrust exemptions. The decision nonetheless served as a warning shot for all states to keep closer tabs on their boards and perhaps rethink their licensing regimes. “The court decision creates a sense of urgency,” Carpenter said.

It’s also opened the door for the federal government to goose states toward a saner approach. In a speech to state lawmakers on July 21, Trump’s labor secretary, Alexander Acosta, told them to get serious about repealing anti-competitive licensing practices.

Less than a week later, a gaggle of conservative lawmakers—Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Ben Sasse, along with Representative Darrell Issa—introduced legislation that would give licensing boards immunity from antitrust suits, but only if a state dramatically reformed (read: dialed back) its licensing regime.


Despite all the libertarian and conservative energy focused on occupational licensing, it is not a left-right, red-blue issue. Right along with IJ, the Brookings Institution has been pushing reform ideas. Liberal journalists such as Matt Yglesias and Jonathan Chait have denounced the insanity. And it was the Obama administration that got the ball rolling with a 2015 report outlining the need for reform.

Now, it’s Trumplandia pressing for change, backed by some congressional support. Hopefully, they won’t lose focus. Fixing occupational licensing may not be as attention-grabbing as, say, building a see-through, solar-powered border wall, but it could do an awful lot of good for an awful lot of American workers.

Read more in The Atlantic

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