One of the biggest issues the Mackinac Center has focused on over the past few years is occupational licensing laws. Here’s why we care so much about these rules and what lawmakers are doing about them.
Licensing requirements are meant to enforce occupational rules that someone must abide by to get a job.
That’s a key thing to understand. For the vast majority of jobs out there — about 80 percent in Michigan — people work for themselves or someone else with no specific mandates from the government. This does not mean they aren’t subject to regulation. Most engineers, for example, aren’t licensed — but their work is still regulated. Restauranteurs and cooks don’t need an occupational license, but they are still subject to health inspections. Tree trimmers aren’t mandated to take college classes, but they might still need a bond.
There are lots of ways to regulate. We believe that rules should be fair, specific and lead — not merely promise to lead — to better health and safety outcomes.
In occupational licensing, the government regulates the process rather than the results. For example, the state of Michigan requires someone who builds a deck for pay to take 60 hours of classes and pass a test. There is no guarantee that it will actually lead to better deck building. As someone who builds decks, I can say from experience that I learned by working with experienced builders (much like an apprenticeship) rather than book work. And what makes sure decks hold up? The reputation of the builder — who has an incentive to do a good job — and the inspections that towns subject them to.
(I have dug a lot of 48-inch holes for deck footings over the years).
Right now, a little more than 20 percent of the workforce is subject to licensing rules. And many licenses on the books don’t make sense. For many occupations, Michigan requires a license where most states do not. For others, our regulations are out of whack with common sense. (Why do makeup artists in cosmetology shops need more training than those who work on film projects?)
In addition, most licenses block people who have committed a crime from working — even misdemeanors are taken into account — without enough thought to whether they have been rehabilitated. And how better to rehabilitate someone back into society than through a job?
These rules are standing in the way of Michigan citizens trying to find work. People like:
- Blanca Chabi, a hair braider trying to earn an honest living running Blanca’s Braids in Garden City. Chabi had a shampoo bowl in her shop, not knowing that doing so in Michigan requires a cosmetology license, which requires tests, years of training and hundreds of dollars in fees. She was fined by the state.
- Austin Loose, who owes thousands of dollars for schooling to earn a certificate he will never use. He sailed through massage therapy school, but a learning disability caused him to struggle with the final test required for a state license. While other states allow massage therapists to work without heavy state regulations, Michigan requires 500 hours and an exam. Austin and his twin brother Login went to school and graduated together; Login got his license and is working in the field while Austin cannot.
- Dr. Jan Pol, a veterinarian in rural Michigan and former reality TV show star on the National Geographic channel. Pol saved the life of a dog that had been hit by a car, to the delight of its owners. But after the feature on Pol was broadcast, an out-of-state vet reported him for not wearing the proper surgical attire and failing to provide a warming pad to the dog. The state licensing board tried to take away his license after fining him and putting him on probation, but it was overruled by a court.
- Mike Grennan, a carpenter whose past criminal activity restricts him from getting a license to do contracting work. Grennan can work for other people or on jobs billed for less than a certain amount of money, but can’t work for himself.
Thankfully, state lawmakers are working on the issue. House bills 6110-6113 have passed the state House and are in the state Senate. This bipartisan package would make it easier for ex-offenders to get licensed. While nobody should be forced to hire someone with a criminal record, it shouldn’t be illegal to give them a chance.
House bills 5955-5965 would preempt local governments from adding regulations above and beyond state rules. That’s a commonsense step that would make it easier for people to take their license from city to city.
Other bills which are just as important have been introduced, but they have not moved yet. House Bill 6114 would require the state to review the occupational licenses on the books to determine if they make sense. And Senate Bill 340 would raise, from $600 to $3,000, the amount of work handyman contractors could do before being subject to licensure requirements. That amount hasn’t budged for decades. Adjusting it for inflation would give more individuals the chance to bid for lower-value projects.
To learn more about our work on this important issue and watch a video featuring the individuals negatively affected by current laws, visit mackinac.org/licensure.