Summer Savings! Get unlimited digital access for 13 weeks for $13.
Op-Eds
News Opinion Op-Eds

Too many occupational licenses

Not all occupation licensing laws on the books in Annapolis actually protect Maryland consumers from harm. It's pretty clear that many of these laws misuse state sanctions to protect existing businesses from unwanted competition. Now a new study by the Washington-based Institute for Justice can help Maryland lawmakers decide which of these laws serve the public and should stay — and which should go.

The report, "License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing," examines licensing practices for 102 lower-wage occupations in all 50 states. If you want to work in one of the 42 occupations licensed in Maryland, you may need to meet a minimum age requirement, demonstrate a certain level of often-irrelevant experience and training, pass an exam that may have little to do with your job, and pay a licensing fee.

Some licensing requirements make sense. But of the 102 occupations reviewed in the report, only seven — cosmetologist, pest control applicator, school bus driver, city bus driver, emergency medical technician, truck driver and vegetation pesticide handler — are regulated in Maryland and all other states.

Beyond this handful of occupations with widely recognized public health and safety issues, the report questions the motives for licensing many others. "Occupational practitioners," the authors write, "often through professional associations, use the power of concentrated interests to lobby state legislators for protection from competition through licensing laws. Such anti-competitive motives are typically masked by appeals to protecting public health and safety."

There are three ways to sort out the occupations that need state oversight from those that serve no compelling public purpose:

•First, if consumers in more than half of the states get along just fine without regulating an occupation, there is a good chance Maryland's licensing requirements are not necessary. Of the 42 occupations licensed in Maryland, 20 are licensed in fewer than half of the other states. In this category we find the following occupations licensed in Maryland, along with a small number of other states: social and human services assistant, tree trimmer, animal trainer, travel guide, upholster, floor sander contractor, packager and farm labor contractor. Licensing such trades is both unnecessary and foolish.

•Next, if the licensing requirements in Maryland are a lot stiffer than those in use in other states, there is a good chance Maryland's requirements serve mainly to protect existing businesses from competition rather than protect consumers. For example, in Maryland, a pest control applicator needs a year of experience, while the national average is 191 days. To get a massage therapy license requires 327 days of training here, compared to a national average of 139 days.

•Last, if licensing requirements have little to do with protecting the health and safety of Maryland consumers, chances are they have a lot to do with protecting existing businesses from competition. Occupations with little or no public health and safety-based issues, but still licensed in Maryland, include: sheet metal contractor; terrazzo contractor; door repair contractor; mason contractor, drywall installation contractor and glazier contractor.

For those occupations that do not clearly present an obvious need for the state to protect the health and safety of Marylanders, the report identifies private-sector alternatives to state oversight.

One option is voluntary certification through professional associations. This allows practitioners to distinguish themselves but also allows consumers to decide for themselves how much value to place on such credentials. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, for example, presently confers its ASE certificate on about 350,000 mechanics.

In addition, instead of state sanctions, third party consumer organizations such as the Better Business Bureau and Angie's List hold occupational practitioners accountable for the quality of their goods and services.

The report ends with this advice for state policymakers. "When reviewing current or proposed licensing laws, policymakers should demand proof that there is a clear, likely and well-established danger to the public from unlicensed practice. … Forcing would-be workers to take unnecessary classes, engage in lengthy apprenticeships, pass irrelevant exams or clear needless hurdles does nothing to ensure public safety."

Ronald Fraser writes on public policy issues for the DKT Liberty Project, a Washington-based civil liberties organization. His email is fraserr@erols.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Tree removal is hazardous work

    Regarding your recent article about the licensing of tree experts, this is very dangerous work, where fatality and injury rates are among the highest for any profession ("Too many occupational licenses?" May 31.)

  • Response, recover and rebuilding Baltimore

    Response, recover and rebuilding Baltimore

    There have been many accounts of the city's response on April 27th and the days following. In this last of my six-column series, I'd like to share the story of the Baltimore City Health Department's immediate response and ongoing recovery efforts.

  • How to kill the summer job

    How to kill the summer job

    I had a lot of summer jobs. I was a foot messenger in New York for a couple of summers. I worked as a receptionist and mail room flunky. Before my junior year of high school, I briefly sold ice cream snacks — sort of yuppie bonbons — on the street for a company called Love Bites. The uniform was...

  • Unmasking Dr. Huxtable

    Unmasking Dr. Huxtable

    Like many African-American women, when I heard about the sexual assault accusations against comedian Bill Cosby I was shocked and disappointed. I had difficulty separating my memories of Bill Cosby and his popular '80s sitcom with the new picture that was emerging of a predator whose victims claimed...

  • In Baltimore, hope can be a dangerous thing

    In Baltimore, hope can be a dangerous thing

    On a warm summer Saturday last month, while many of you were relaxing with your families or running errands, I attended the funeral of a 16 year old.

  • The world has already had a race war

    The world has already had a race war

    He wanted to start a race war.

  • Suspensions are the symptom, racism is the cause

    Suspensions are the symptom, racism is the cause

    When my daughter was a junior in high school, she became captain of her softball team. One morning, while she shared some snacks I had brought her with a couple of teammates, a teacher accused her of selling food. He then confiscated my daughter's bag, violating the school board policy that gives...

  • Addressing the work family balance

    Addressing the work family balance

    Whatever you think about Sen. Bernie Sanders and business billionaire Donald Trump, it is exciting to see the chorus of viewpoints being offered by more than a dozen presidential candidates (16 on the GOP side alone). The summer of 2015 is hardly going to be a sleeper.

Comments
Loading
77°