State legislators have again failed to tackle reforming Florida's occupational licensing requirements
I sometimes question how serious Florida legislators are about creating jobs and helping Florida’s economy. They’ve taken some appreciable steps with changing tax codes, protecting property rights and investing in infrastructure. But even with Gov. DeSantis pushing his “Deregathon,” this was at least the third straight legislature that has failed to tackle occupational licensing reform.
Occupational licenses require aspiring workers and entrepreneurs to secure government permission to enter a particular field. Through a combination of educational and experience requirements, as well as exams and fees, occupational licensing attempts to protect consumers from malpractice and to ensure that practitioners are sufficiently skilled. Although only one in 20 U.S. workers was required to obtain licensure in the 1950s, nearly one in three workers is required to do so today, with the average occupation requiring nine months of training, $209 in fees and passage of an exam.
Florida requires a license for 326 professions and businesses. Many of those requirements do not protect consumers from any obvious harms but do reduce jobs and competition and raise prices. Few of the occupations for which Florida requires licenses are licensed in all states. For example, Florida requires occupational licenses for:
- Recruiters of temporary farm workers — 42 states, including Georgia, Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania, do not;
- Interior designers — 47 states, including Georgia, California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, do not;
- Dietitians and nutritionists — 11 states, including New York and Texas, do not;
- Animal control officer — 38 states, including Georgia, New York and Pennsylvania, do not;
- Funeral attendants — 38 states, including Georgia and New York, do not;
- Makeup artists, theatrical and performance — 11 states, including Georgia, California and Texas, do not; and
- Bill and account collectors — 20 states, including Georgia, California, New York, Texas and Pennsylvania, do not.
I could go on at talk about auctioneers, barbers, caterers, check cashers, yacht salesmen and many more, but you get the idea. If so many other states have found ways to protect consumers without requiring licenses, Florida should consider doing the same. The quality of providers of many of these professions is easily judged by consumers. It is unlikely that haircuts, interior design and catering are fundamentally better in Florida because the state licenses those professions than they are in other states that don’t require licenses. Or, put another way, it seems unlikely that consumers are suffering in all of those states that do not require occupational licenses for these and other professions, and somehow that suffering stays out of the media and away from the attention of that state’s legislators.
Indeed, a 2015 White House report on occupational licensing summarized the research on the effects of licensing on consumers and concluded: “Overall, the empirical research does not find large improvements in quality or health and safety from more stringent licensing. In fact, in only two out of the 12 studies was greater licensing associated with quality improvements.”
A study comparing the burden of occupational licensing requirements in each state—as measured by fees, training, tests and limitations—ranks Florida the fourth most burdensome in the nation. Florida, which prides itself on being job-friendly, puts far more burdens on would-be professionals than New Jersey, New York, California and Massachusetts.
The legislature needs to quit bowing to special interests who want to be protected from competition and overhaul this mess of job-killing licensing requirements. When looking at occupations from which to remove restrictions, they should consider:
- Are there well-documented and consistent complaints from, and harm to, consumers from unlicensed providers?
- Is there a less restrictive option than licensing that would rein in bad acting?
- Are there other states that don’t license this occupation and yet don’t have consumer problems?
Dr. Adrian Moore is Vice President at Reason Foundation and lives in Sarasota.