May 4, 2012 at 1:00 am

Licensed pros say strict rules protect consumers

Acupuncturist Anne Biris studied for years to be registered in Michigan, but deregulation puts people at risk, she says. (David Coates / The Detroit News)

Lansing — Experts in several licensed occupations are pushing lawmakers to reject recommendations from the governor's administration to deregulate their professions.

Speech pathologists, acupuncturists and respiratory therapists will no longer have to meet minimum standards of education and experience, or pass board exams.

Landscape architects, foresters and auctioneers will also lose state credentials as part of an effort to end regulation of 18 professions and disband nine state oversight boards.

"Michigan was the sixth most heavily regulated state in terms of occupations," said Lansing Attorney Jeffrey C. Hicks, a member of the 14-member advisory committee that made the recommendations.

But that's not the issue, said Anne Biris of Eastern Integrated Services in Dearborn, who earned a master's degree and passed roughly 20 hours of board exams to be called a registered acupuncturist.

"We definitely need regulation to keep our patients safe. It's the only way people can know they're being treated by someone who is trained," Biris said, noting acupuncturists are regulated in 48 states.

That's how Warren Rauhe feels, too. The associate professor of landscape architecture at Michigan State University said the field is licensed in all 50 states — and for good reason.

It's "for the safety of citizens," Rauhe said. "We're talking about parks, trails, storm water management. It's not six shrubs and a patio."

Those in affected professions who are unhappy with the proposal have swarmed the state Capitol to lobby lawmakers. Landscape architects were there Tuesday. Among them was Bob Ford of Landscape Architects and Planners in Lansing. He noted the Legislature passed the licensing statute for landscape architects just four years ago in 2008, and registration had been in place since the '80s.

The opposition to cutting government oversight and regulation is notable at a time when most of the business community is calling for less intervention by state and federal governments.

Supporters say the move will open the professions to more people who otherwise might have been limited by license and training rules. Other professions — such as immigration clerical assistant — are so obscure that few people apply for credentials.

Speech pathologists are on the governor's list, too. They do things such as fit cancer patients with tracheoesophageal prostheses to replace their voice boxes, assist victims of Lou Gehrig's disease with swallowing, help stroke victims re-learn to speak, and work in schools to aid children with speech delays.

"It's a very complex field," said Elaine Ledwon-Robinson, director of speech pathology for the University of Michigan Health System. "We're in the operating room for some procedures." She added she was voicing her own views, not those of the university.

Speech pathologists must get a master's degree, pass a national test and hold provisional licenses while completing a nine-month clinical fellowship, she said.

"Only one state in the nation doesn't license speech pathologists," she said. "There really isn't a means for monitoring or addressing significant issues in practice if you don't have licensure."

It's unclear how many people would be affected by the change. But Michigan had 25,130 security guards in 2008, the most recent year tracked by the state Bureau of Labor Market Information, 3,810 respiratory therapists, 3,050 speech pathologists and 790 landscape architects.

'Important first step'

Gov. Rick Snyder believes the committee's recommendations are an "important first step" in the process of streamlining government, Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said. He's reviewed the report, but hasn't decided on any of the recommendations.

"(A)ny changes will require further review, stakeholder and public input and/or legislative action," Wurfel said.

Snyder created the Office of Regulatory Reinvention to study cutting red tape and creating a more business-friendly regulatory environment in Michigan. A 14-member advisory committee was appointed to examine licensed occupations.

The committee met 14 times from August through December 2011 and evaluated 87 professions, according to Julie DeBoer, executive director of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors and a committee member.

Each profession was judged by seven criteria outlined by Snyder, such as whether the regulation costs the state money, or exceeds national standards.

"There are ways for the public without licensure to make sure somebody is qualified to do the job," DeBoer said.

Hicks, one of four attorneys on the committee, said they looked at whether the state credential provides protection to the public. "Because (acupuncture) has got to be performed under the supervision of a physician, the opinion was that that provides adequate protection," Hicks said.

Opens up jobs

Hicks also noted that practicing without a license is criminal for only two professions, law and medicine.

Getting rid of licensing rules will open up the jobs to those previously kept out, Hicks said. Demanding registration limited the number of people who could provide a service, he added.

Ari Adler, spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said workers will get a fair hearing in the Legislature.

Richard Merson, coordinator of Research and Special Clinics for Beaumont Hospital, which has one of the largest hospital-based speech programs in the country with 70 pathologists, is convinced speech pathologists ended up on the hit list by mistake.

"The governor must have overlooked this," Merson said. "I just cannot imagine that he's going to go along with this. Every state in the union except Michigan is going to be licensed."

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Gov. Rick Snyderís administration hopes to deregulate 18 professions, but ... (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)
Carolyn Doty, speech and language pathology department manager at Beaumont ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)