Chris Riley (far right), Gov. Nathan Deal’s chief of staff, watches as Deal outlines his budget before the joint appropriation committee at the Capitol. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Opinion: License to block people from getting work

Here is something that shouldn’t be controversial: People who want a job so they can improve their lives should be encouraged, not blocked by obstacles created by government.

Welcome to the hell, for many people, that is occupational licensing.

Some of the jobs to which lower-income Georgians might gravitate turn out to be some of the hardest to break into, requiring hundreds and hundreds of hours of training or experience before one can get a state-issued license. And the requirements can seem uneven and illogical across professions. Georgia prescribes 110 hours of training to become an emergency medical technician, tasked with saving people’s lives, but 1,000 hours to be a makeup artist.

“If you’re a young person wanting to get into the movie business, you might think, ‘Oh, I could be a makeup artist,’” says Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville. “All right, fine — then, 1,000 hours later, then you can go apply for the license, then when you get one, you can go try to find a job.

“It seems a tad excessive.”

It doesn’t just seem that way. Georgia has the nation’s 14th most burdensome licensing laws, according to a review last fall by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm. Our state doesn’t regulate all that many professions — just 41 of 102 lower-income occupations, according to the firm — but it regulates them onerously. Unfortunately, the trend is going in the wrong direction: In 2012, we ranked 18th.

It shouldn’t be that way. In 2010, legislators created a body to report on the licensing boards that in many cases set these regulations. (and which in many cases have an interest in limiting the number of people working in those industries, the better to limit their own competition). But, Brockway says, the Georgia Occupational Regulation Review Council has yet to submit one of the required reports to the Legislature.

“For some professions, maybe it makes sense,” Brockway allows. “But if no one’s reviewing it, how do we know? Is 1,500 hours of training really necessary for a barber? Maybe there’s compelling evidence to support that, but without these reviews we don’t know.”

“And it hurts the people on the lower end of the economic ladder who are trying to lift themselves out of poverty when there are regulations on those sorts of industries. Obviously, civil engineers and architects and those sorts of (jobs) need to be licensed. But it seems we have the most burdensome regulations on those that lower-income people could most easily get into otherwise.”

Brockway, who is running for secretary of state, the office that oversees many of these licensing boards, authored a resolution last year urging the council to do its job. It finally passed the House last month by a 161-0 vote.

“Generate these reports, give them to the Legislature, and let the Legislature determine what the policy should be,” Brockway says.

“In some cases, the Legislature has set those, requiring X number of continuing education credits. … Others it’s just (licensing) board policy, but the Legislature could override that if it found it was excessive. What blows my mind is the statistic that 50 years ago, 5 percent of the work force (nationally) required a license; you’re approaching 30 percent now.”

For all the talk of helping people get into jobs that don’t require college degrees, licensing remains an additional barrier. And, too often, an unnecessary one.

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