ISSUES

OCCUPATIONAL LICENSING

The rising tide of government licensing has been drastic over the past half-decade. In 1950, just one in 20 workers required a license or certificate in order to obtain a job. Today, it’s close to 30 percent. Among those careers that now require a license to earn a living are fortunetellers, party planners, florists, shampoo assistants, beekeepers, and librarians—and that just scratches the surface.

Often touted as a means of ensuring public safety and protecting the public from bad actors, occupational licensing has instead often become a weapon to prevent competition in the marketplace. When it takes four times as long to become an auctioneer as it does an EMT, our state has allowed industry boards to stack the deck against those looking to participate in the workforce. These barriers to entry are arbitrary, destructive to the economy, and fundamentally unfair—especially hurting low-income individuals relying on a particular skill to earn an honest living.

To start reversing this trend, the Tennessee General Assembly passed a groundbreaking law in 2016. The Right to Earn a Living Act called upon the legislature to review the rules and regulations of state licensing boards and recommend the repeal of any that do not directly pertain to the health, safety, and welfare of the general public. Should a board not comply with the request for repeal, the legislature has the power to disband or “sunset” that board’s rulemaking authority. Indeed, the House and Senate government operations committees, tasked with this process, have their work cut out for them. The initial report required as part of the Right to Earn a Living Act has highlighted the drastic need reform and a plethora of opportunities to roll back government red tape, making it easier for hardworking Tennesseans to find a job or start a business.

We challenge the legislature to build upon the steps it took in 2016 and continue to hold these unelected licensing boards accountable to the public. We released a how-to guide for legislators when eliminating or reducing occupational licenses through this new law that you can read here. More recently, Beacon released a report exposing the 12 licensing laws we believe in the most need of reform. You can read our Dirty Dozen report here.

Meanwhile, Beacon’s Legal Foundation has helped take on these licenses directly. Our recent lawsuits on behalf of our clients like Tammy Pritchard and Martha Stowe has helped spur the General Assembly to permanently repeal the license to shampoo hair and temporarily repeal the license for animal massage therapists. Read about our Legal Foundations’ lawsuit representing Tammy and Martha here.

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