Editorial: Michigan must cut back on job licensing

The Detroit News

Since the 1950s, the number of careers that require some type of licensing in Michigan has ballooned. Today, 30 percent of professions require a license compared to just 5 percent 65 years ago. That's a trend the state should reverse.

Licensing to protect the health and safety of citizens is a proper government function, but the licensing laws in many fields benefit special interest groups and limit competition. Consumers and individual workers are the losers.

According to the Institute for Justice, 42 out of 102 moderate-income occupations are licensed in Michigan making the state the 21st most burdensome in this category. The non-profit says Michigan is one of the states where the amount of training for some jobs is out of balance.

For example, a security guard must obtain three years of education and experience. The 37 other states that license security guards require 11 days or less, except North Dakota, which requires 241 days. In other cases, barbers are required to obtain almost 18 times as much training as emergency medical technicians, and cosmetologists must complete almost 14 times as much as an EMT.

Reducing or eliminating overly burdensome requirements would open job opportunities in Michigan.

The licensing regulations are often arbitrarily enforced because of lack of funding locally.

"People who are trying to live by the law are paying higher costs and jumping through more hoops," says Jarrett Skorup, a policy analyst at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Licensing laws can be too restrictive. For example, under a former provision, an 18-year-old who served four years in the military, including two tours overseas, and then got discharged couldn't obtain a security guard job until he was 25. That law was amended in 2012 to drop the age to 21.

A special interest group benefit from laws is barber colleges. There are only five such schools in the state. So, because of licensing laws, a person wishing to go into this career must attend one of them to earn the required 1,800 hours of credit.

Last year, the state Legislature passed bipartisan bills that eliminated rules for several areas: dieticians and nutritionists, interior designers, auctioneers, community planners, ocularists, school solicitors and immigration clerical assistants.

It's a start.

Legislators haven't done much this year related to licensing, but there is some pending legislation. One House bill eliminates the need for a contractor or sub-contractor to have a license if the residential or commercial repair or renovation project totals less than $10,000. It appears to be on the right track, but the proposal is 36 pages long and needs simplifying.

Gov. Rick Snyder has established rules he says he'll use to review bills and veto unwarranted licensing regulations. To pass his test, bills that would require a license must show substantial harm or danger to the public health, safety, or welfare; the occupation must involve highly specialized education or training; and the cost to state government for regulating the job must be revenue neutral.

The Legislature, working with the governor's guidelines, can make incremental progress and bring the professional licensing laws more in line with what they should do — protect the health and safety of the public.