We don’t need more licensure laws. We need less.


February 25, 2019 9:37AM

Only one of these headlines is fake.

Sadly, it’s not immediately clear which.

By now, these stories are way too common. Someone does something that falls under some obscure licensing scheme and winds up being threatened with serious legal penalties. It doesn’t matter whether the person acted out of compassion, or even without pay. If what they are doing conceivably relates to the practice of a licensed trade – in these instances, veterinary medicine – you can count on aggressive enforcement from licensing boards.

With the 2019 legislative session gearing up, now is as good of a time as any to think about this issue. We’ve got bad, new licenses that are being proposed and bad, old licenses that need to come off the books.

Some of these efforts are nothing short of comic. There is a bill that would create an art therapist license, complete with a new art therapy “committee.” With a word count limit, I will let the definition of “art therapy” speak for itself. Upon review, it’s not evident that pre-school teachers who send upset children to finger-paint in the corner won’t need an art therapist license—a license that’s not so easy to get unless you have a master’s degree in art therapy and a scant 1,000 supervised clinical hours in art therapy. For those of you who got your master’s degree in a field other than art therapy, you can make up the deficiencies in your knowledge gap with 1,500 hours of supervised experience. Members of the art therapy committee are “entitled” by law to receive travel and “other appropriate expenses.” And of course, practicing art therapy without a license is a crime. Never has it been so dangerous to doodle.

This year will also witness a proposal to prohibit certain types of online auctions unless you take off an estimated 756 calendar days to get the “auctioneer” license. Online auctions are making auctions more accessible and secure than ever before. Twenty states require no kind of a license for auctioneers whatsoever. Tennessee is moving in the wrong direction. There have been only three consumer complaints about auctioneers total since 2016, so why the change?

It’s no secret why. Licensing boards want to grow their power because they are made up of people who are themselves licensees and stand to benefit by making the license hard to get. The harder they make it get the license, the more valuable they make themselves. Consumers wind up paying for the artificial wage inflation. And it is harder for young people to get a decent job than ever before.

Tennessee has a chance to move in the right direction by repealing its hair-braider license. Believe it or not, you face jail time if you do what little girls have done on playgrounds without a license for generations.  As silly as these laws sound, they hurt a lot of people. I’ve talked to people who fled developing nations to come to America because it is the land of opportunity, only to be told for the first time when they arrived in Tennessee that it would be illegal for them to braid hair. It should not be freer in Senegal than Tennessee.

Over 21% of Tennessee workers currently need a license to work. That’s the 12th highest percentage in the land. It costs the State an estimated $173 million in lost economic value. 2019 should be the year those numbers improve. We don’t need more licensure laws. We need less.

Let’s take the chance to give everyone a shot at the American dream. If that means we have to put up with some reckless art therapists, it’s a risk we may have to run.