It seems uncontroversial to say that state and local government shouldn’t regulate a local kid’s summer lemonade stand or informal lawn mowing service out of business. Yet not everyone agrees.
Alainna Parris, one such lawn-mowing teen in Gardendale, Alabama, faced a difficult situation recently when she received a complaint that she was operating an unlicensed lawn mowing business. According to a Gardendale statute passed in 2007, it was illegal for Alainna to mow without first applying for a $110 business license.
Interestingly, the complaint originated from one of Alainna’s competitors, not a customer victimized by unregulated mowing. By offering lawn mowing services at $30 apiece, Alainna cut into the professional lawn care service’s profits, which raised their ire. The only true “victims” of Alainna’s services were her competitors.
It seems outrageous that an existing business would try to shut down a teenager working for extra money, but most occupational licensing laws across the country work just this way, including those in Nebraska. By favoring already established businesses over new entries, occupational licenses lift the bottom rung of the economic ladder out of the reach of workers with the fewest skills, and the least experience and resources.
Whether licenses require long hours of training, like the 1,000 hour requirement for Nebraska massage therapists, or burdensome fees, like the $1,005 duty for Nebraska sign language interpreters, they exclude people at the bottom of the ladder from using their skills to provide for themselves.
Fortunately for them, but sadly for the state of Nebraska, they can go elsewhere. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 8,000 Nebraskans moved to Iowa in 2013. Some may cross the river just to escape onerous licensing laws, like Ilona Holland, whose 600 hours of training allowed her to practice massage therapy in Council Bluffs, but not in Omaha.
When cronyism wins on occupational licenses, Nebraska loses, and vulnerable Nebraskans are hurt most of all. The growing number of occupations with burdensome licensing requirements jeopardizes Nebraska’s promise of the Good Life. Happily, cronyism did not win in Gardendale, Alabama, where the city quickly passed an ordinance allowing students to mow without a license. Nebraska should follow Gardendale’s example and repeal or reform licensure laws that hold its citizens back.
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