By The Oklahoman Editorial Board
GOV. Mary Fallin has called for review of Oklahoma’s occupational licensing laws with the goal of eliminating and reducing unnecessary regulation. That’s welcome news that could increase economic opportunity for many Oklahomans.
The need for regulation certainly exists in some situations, but many occupational licensing requirements are designed primarily to reduce competition and drive up profits for established industry players. Purported public safety benefits are negligible or even laughable.
According to the federal Department of Treasury, the Council of Economic Advisers and the Department of Labor, the percentage of the Oklahoma workforce licensed by the state is 25 percent — higher than all but 11 states. The average education or experience required to obtain a state occupational license in Oklahoma is 416 days, higher than all but 10 states. A 2007 Reason Foundation study found Oklahoma licensed 91 job categories, compared with 41 in Missouri.
Those statistics suggest Oklahoma is rife with occupational over-regulation. Some examples are especially glaring. According to the Institute for Justice, Oklahoma is one of just 15 states requiring hair braiders to obtain a specialty “technician” license. That process involves 600 hours of coursework and passing a practical and written exam and can cost up to $10,000. Little of the required training pertains to braiding and there are no major safety issues associated with braiding.
John Tidwell, state director for Americans for Prosperity-Oklahoma, notes it takes four times longer to become a hair braider than an emergency medical responder in Oklahoma.
Byron Schlomach, a researcher with the Oklahoma City-based 1889 Institute, has identified other examples. In a recent analysis, Schlomach noted that it’s illegal for anyone other than a veterinarian to provide horse massage in Oklahoma, yet veterinarians “are taught little” about that skill during their training.
Citing the Institute for Justice, Schlomach says Oklahoma is one of only seven states that licenses social and human service assistants, one of only six that licenses title examiners, one of 13 to license locksmiths, and one of 17 to license animal control officers.
Certified public accountants must not only pass proficiency exams for licensure, but must complete 150 college hours of coursework. Schlomach notes “only 30 of these hours must be in accounting” with wide discretion regarding the remainder. The coursework mandate therefore increases the cost of licensure while providing “no additional degree of protection to public.”
There is “little evidence that public health and service quality are enhanced by licensing,” Schlomach writes, but “a good deal of evidence that occupational licensing limits work opportunity, redistributes income from lower to higher income individuals, increases the cost of living, limits innovation, and leads to more licensing.”
Some states license practical and vocational nurses, occupational therapists, pastoral counselors and family therapists. Others do not. Yet Schlomach points out that researchers have found “no difference” in liability insurance rates between the groups, a sure sign licensing provided no tangible safety benefit.
Put simply, numerous states are doing fine without the licensing requirements imposed in Oklahoma. There’s no reason a lighter regulatory touch can’t work here as well.