North Carolina legislators will meet Tuesday to discuss a controversial proposal to eliminate or consolidate more than a dozen occupational licensing boards.
A draft of the proposal would eliminate licensing requirements for electrologists and laser hair practitioners, pastoral counselors, interpreters and transliterators, irrigation contractors, recreational therapists, acupuncturists, athletic trainers, foresters, locksmiths, alarm systems professionals, employee assistance professionals, clinical perfusionists and public librarians.
Nearly all of the licensing boards on the chopping block are expected to send representatives to the Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee meeting, to argue that the boards should be kept intact. The proposal could be considered in the General Assembly’s scheduled 2016 session, which begins April 25.
Advocacy groups are pushing to reform the licensing system, on behalf of entrepreneurs and low-income workers.
“State licensure is a barrier to opportunity and to prosperity,” said Joseph Kyzer, spokesperson for the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, in an interview.
The group argues that some of the state’s licensing regulations don’t make sense, pointing out that a license to be an emergency medical technician requires at least 169 training hours, while hairdressers must complete a cosmetology school curriculum that’s a minimum of 1,500 hours.
The draft proposal will not affect cosmetologists, however.
“We think this is just the first step,” Kyzer said. “North Carolina has a really stringent set of laws.”
Other right-leaning groups, such as The John Locke Foundation and Generation Opportunity, support the proposal to streamline government regulations and make it easier for people to enter professions that now require licenses.
Reports from the conservative George Mason University Mercatus Center on market research say occupational licensing laws disproportionately affect low-income workers and reduce market competition, driving prices up.
“This is pure cronyism. It’s the government picking winners and losers,” said Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the center. “These laws come about because people in the profession want protection from new competition.”
The North Carolina Justice Center, a liberal worker’s rights advocacy group, does not support this proposal.
“The Justice Center is opposed to the legislation as it’s been drafted,” said Allan Freyer, director of worker’s rights at the center. “There may be problems with the current laws, but we believe in the basic importance that occupational licensing plays for the health and safety of consumers.”
He said the N.C. Justice Center does not believe that occupational licensing disrupts the free market.
The licensing boards themselves are trying to make the case that occupational licensing protects consumers and makes it easier to enforce industry regulations.
“Licensing laws don’t keep people out of the profession,” said Barbara Geiger, an administrator for the Irrigation Contractors Licensing Board. “They give guidelines.”
Geiger said the Irrigation Contractors Board was created by the state in 2009 after a serious drought, to prevent water waste by untrained contractors. Required licensing, a higher standard than certification, makes it easier to ensure mistakes are fixed and enforce penalties, she said.
Geiger also said the license is not designed to be prohibitively costly and can be obtained for less than $500, plus an additional $100 each year for continuing education. Irrigation contractors who can prove they have experience in another state can bypass some of the education requirements.
Dan Duffy, a representative from the N.C. Athletic Trainers Association, cautions against deregulating a health care industry such as athletic training.
“We’re providing emergency care,” said Duffy, who stressed that trainers often deal with high school athletes with a wide range of conditions, including concussions and spinal injuries. “It does regulate so that unqualified persons are unable to provide those services.”
State Sen. Andy Well, R-Catawba, who is chairman of the subcommittee that signed off on the latest proposal draft, disagrees.
“Without that extra bureaucratic protection, they say, people will be exposed to unnecessary risk from bad actors," Wells wrote in a recent email to The Insider. "That may have been true 50 years ago. But in the age of smartphones and Yelp, there may be a better way to protect consumers than more bureaucracy."
Initially, the proposal was supposed to consolidate the North Carolina Board of Athletic Trainer Examiners with another licensing board. The latest draft, issued March 17, reads that the license requirements for athletic trainers will be eliminated.