The Trap of Occupational Licensing


July 12, 2016 2:50PM

Earlier today, Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) introduced some important legislation. The bill would allow those on active military duty and their spouses to use occupational licenses on military bases from state to state. While Beacon doesn’t usually focus on federal bills, this proposal is another example of the wave of reform ideas sweeping the nation on occupational licensing.

We’ve done our fair share of work on this issue here in Tennessee. This past session, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the Right to Earn a Living Act. The new law will require the legislature to conduct a thorough review of all occupational licensing regulations and offer recommendations for which can be rolled back out repealed entirely. In addition, Beacon recently filed a lawsuit against the state Board of Cosmetology on behalf of Memphis police officer Tammy Pritchard, who wants to do nothing more than earn some additional income by washing hair in her friend’s salon. Shockingly, Tammy would have to get a full-blown cosmetology license just to do that.

The bill proposed by Sens. Lee and Sasse shows that even Washington gets the harm that the licensing racket can do. It follows a report by the White House—not exactly a bastion of freedom and free enterprise—showing how occupational licensing stands in the way of people who are just trying to get a good job. And the bill’s focus on military families showcases another point…that of mobility. Military families are extremely mobile, and forcing them to get a new license every time they move across state lines is not only cumbersome, but it could upend their very livelihood.

Of course, this same rationale could apply to anyone who is able to or needs to move from one state to another. Licensing laws restrict this mobility, as well as the upward mobility of people like Tammy to climb the ladder of success. It’s time to eliminate that trap, making it easier for all Americans to get—and keep—a good job.