During the 2016 legislative session, the General Assembly passed a groundbreaking law for Tennesseans that will hopefully bring relief from the state’s overly burdensome licensing laws and restrictions. The Right to Earn a Living Act calls upon the legislature to review the rules and regulations of the state’s 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 authority and rulemaking ability. We released a how-to guide for legislators when eliminating or reducing occupational licenses through this act that you can read here.

Indeed, the House and Senate government operations committees, tasked with this process, have their work cut out for them. The rising tide of licensure requirements in the marketplace has been drastic over the past 50 years. As the Wall Street Journal outlined, just five percent of workers required a license or certificate in 1950. Today, it’s close to 30 percent. Among those careers or services they list that now require a license to earn a living are fortunetellers, party planners, florists, shampoo assistants, beekeepers, librarians—and that’s just scratching the surface.

Occupational licensing, often touted as a means of insuring public safety and protecting the populace from bad actors, has instead become a tool used to prevent competition in the marketplace. When an individual who wishes to earn an income by shampooing others’ hair is forced to get a license requiring more educational hours than an EMT, at an average cost of more than $15,000 to the individual, then 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.

We challenge the state legislature to build upon the steps they took in 2016 and continue to hold these unelected licensing boards accountable to the public. In the meantime, we are also working to defend the rights of those whose ability to earn a living has been hampered, such as our client Tammy Pritchard. Read about the Beacon Center Legal Foundations’ lawsuit representing Tammy here.

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