Licensing with Laura: Punishing Initiative and Innovation

In the Land of Opportunity, the overuse of occupational regulation by the state—job licensing—is a barrier to work for some. It’s likely to stifle entrepreneurship, and may even punish initiative and innovation. Let’s look at some examples.
 

Utility line locators are those folks who come out to mark up your yard when you’re getting ready to plant a tree or do other excavation work. They are typically employed by companies who specialize in that service, and the companies provide their employees training in the use of equipment to find and mark the lines. Nationwide, line locators make around $12-$15 per hour. Depending on the local climate, they may be busiest from the spring through the fall, when more excavation projects may take place. Since some of these companies hire seasonal workers, one might assume their workforce includes college students and those working a second job.
 

This year, LB462 in the Nebraska Legislature would require licensing for individual line locators. The individual would have to fulfill state requirements for training and testing and pay a licensing fee. Knowing if this is a good way to handle this occupation requires asking some questions: Has there been significant, widespread harm caused by unlicensed locators? Do their employers not have the motivation to ensure that they have been properly trained, in order to avoid liability? Importantly, is it fair to impose the additional burden of job licensing on workers who may be taking the initiative to put in extra hours just to make ends meet for the season?  
 

Innovation can also be stifled when some occupations are regulated through what is referred to as a “practice act.” A practice act outlines the “scope of practice” for a license, drawing hard boundaries that tell practitioners what they can do, and what those outside the field CAN’T do. 
 

In 2018, the Legislature chose to completely deregulate horse (equine) massage—a field that was previously licensed under the Veterinary Practice Act. It’s worth noting that veterinarians were never particularly interested in massaging horses. They were already busy treating other medical problems for animals. The origin story of licensing for horse massage boils down to this: members of another profession (chiropractors) started doing treatments on horses; veterinarians didn’t like chiropractors on their turf (animals) without permission; so, the Legislature created a new license for animal therapies under the authority of the Veterinary Practice Act.
 

This licensing arrangement excluded capable professionals who could provide massage to horses, dogs, and cats, until the Legislature changed the law last year.
 

But it’s not just veterinarians who want to protect their turf. Medical doctors have sought to limit the scope of nurse practitioners, who are qualified to provide many of the same services; dental hygienists have tried to limit the scope of dental assistants, and so on. These barriers are not only found in medical types of professions. We’ll talk in later articles about how occupations with practice acts often protect industry turf, not just at the expense of those showing initiative, but also to the detriment of consumers.

Laura Ebke is the Senior Fellow for Job Licensing Reform at the Platte Institute. Learn more at PlatteInstitute.org/Jobs

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