Legislature Takes Aim at Rolling Back Harmful Licensing Laws

These proposals would free up citizens to work, earn money

Michigan’s occupational licensing laws — rules that forbid people from working in certain jobs before they’ve jumped through the right hoops — are among the most stringent in the Midwest. A review of the evidence, from scholars on both the political left and right, shows that licensing laws lead to fewer jobs, lower overall income, worse income inequality, larger prison populations and higher prices for consumers.

So it’s good news that legislators are taking a crack at some of these laws. Here are a few bills that have been submitted this year and what they would do.

  • Contractors and Construction workers: Senate Bill 340, sponsored by Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Portage, would ensure that certain construction work costing less than $3,000 would be exempt from licensing rules. The current threshold is $600. A similar bill passed the state House last year, but failed in the Senate. More details can be found here.
  • Voluntary Medical Clinics: House Bill 4283, sponsored by Rep. Robert Kosowski, D-Westland, would remove restrictions on medical providers who want to volunteer in Michigan. Around the nation, volunteer clinics like Remote Area Medical operate by using doctors, nurses, dentists and other professionals who provide free services to the poor. Often, they rely on licensed volunteers from out of state, and Michigan effectively bans them from helping.
  • Dental therapists: Senate Bill 541, sponsored by Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, would allow dental therapists to work in Michigan. These workers are trained, work under the supervision of a dentist and can do preventative and routine dental care at a much lower cost. Under current Michigan law, these services must be provided by a dentist, which limits access to dental services, especially for rural and low-income families.
  • Psychologists: House Bill 4549, sponsored by Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, would keep the state from forcing licensed psychologists who received a master’s degree before 2010 to take an extra exam to maintain their license. This exam, which was created in 2010 and resulted in confusion among practitioners, is unnecessary.
  • Lawyers: House Bill 4312, sponsored by Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, would allow lawyers from other states to take the Michigan bar exam and gain a license. Currently, the state imposes additional requirements on lawyers trained in other states before they can operate legally in Michigan. This drives up legal costs for Michiganders, despite there being no evidence that these mandates make for safer lawyering. This bill has passed the state House.
  • Painters and Decorators: House Bill 4608, sponsored by Rep. Jeff Noble, R-Plymouth, would eliminate Michigan’s license for painters and decorators. Only nine other states require this license and there is no evidence it protects public health and safety. This bill has passed the state House.
  • Ex-Offenders: House Bill 4117, sponsored by Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Oshtemo Township, and House Bill 4065, sponsored by Rep. David Pagel, R-Berrien Springs, would roll back some laws that restrict people with a criminal record when they look for work. Iden’s bill would get rid of the blanket ban preventing people with felonies from selling insurance, while Pagel’s bill would allow corrections facilities to hire former convicts. Neither bill mandates anything — each simply lets people with criminal records be considered for work. The evidence shows that Michigan’s work restrictions on people with criminal backgrounds leads to more of them returning to prison.

These are all good steps and the bills are worthy of support. But legislators need to continue working toward a comprehensive package of laws that refocus the state on mandating training, education, tests and fees for occupations only when they have a demonstrated impact on public health and safety.

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