EDITORIAL: New Hampshire leads the way on occupational licensing reform

The state of New Hampshire is taking steps to combat the mushrooming number of occupations that require professional licenses. The approach should serve as a model for other states — including Nevada — to tear down barriers that needlessly make it more difficult for millions of Americans to earn an honest living.

Back in the 1950s, according to a University of Minnesota study, roughly 5 percent of U.S. jobs required some form of occupational license — mostly covering professionals such as doctors, lawyers and pilots. Thanks to the vast expansion of the regulatory state, about 25 percent of all jobs are currently subject to state occupational licensing requirements, Politico reports. That includes more than 1,000 professions.

The Institute for Justice has spent decades documenting the capricious nature of these requirements. For example, a 2012 IJ study found that the typical EMT license costs $85 and requires 33 days of education and training. Yet cosmetologists must be licensed in all 50 states at an average cost of $142, and they must complete more than a year of education and training — including two exams.

Licensed commercial carpenters and cabinet makers in 29 states and the District of Columbia must shell out about $300 and spend roughly 450 days in school, IJ reports. Until last year, New Hampshire residents could legally work braiding hair only if they first spent 1,500 hours training and nearly $20,000 to become a licensed cosmetologist.

Proponents of such restrictions cite consumer health and safety concerns to justify the requirements — and few people would argue that medical doctors or airline pilots shouldn’t be subjected to licensing regulations. But for scores of occupations — cosmetologists, landscapers, interior decorators and many, many more — the laws are thinly veiled protection rackets designed to shield existing practitioners from competition.

“Far too many workers are spending their time earning a license when they should be earning a living,” says Lee McGrath, the IJ’s senior legislative counsel.

Now New Hampshire seeks to buck the trend. A bill pending in the Granite State legislature would create an “Occupational Regulation Review Commission” to evaluate both existing and proposed regulations. It would also examine one-fifth of the state’s occupational regulations each year to identify “any rules or laws that should be repealed or modified so they are the least restrictive,” IJ reports.

This an encouraging step forward. Not only do many of these laws unnecessarily limit employment opportunities for millions of Americans — particularly those of lesser means — but they also drive up costs for consumers by limiting new entrants into the marketplace.

New Hampshire has the right idea. Nevada lawmakers should take notice.

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