By Ross Coker
If you or your family have ever taken a vacation to a locale rich in history and lore such as Charleston, S.C., or Savannah, you might have enjoyed the spooky entertainment of a ghost tour. In the event that you did, one of the first things on your mind during the tour was likely, “I hope my tour guide is licensed by the city,” right? Probably not.
Nevertheless, tour guiding in Savannah was one of many professions that was kept behind the curtain of a licensing requirement in the state of Georgia – until recently, when a group of tour guides partnered with the non-profit law firm the Institute for Justice to challenge the requirement on a first-amendment basis.
After the suit was brought, the city quickly backed off the requirement, offering a certain amount of self-awareness when they quipped: “When you come up against the U.S. Constitution, you lose.”
While this response begs the question of what justification for the law could have possibly been so compelling as to justify knowingly going up against the First Amendment, the resolution of this case offers a bright spot amidst the larger issue of occupational licensing reform across the nation.
While regrettably most cases of licensing requirements cannot be so clearly stricken down on a constitutional or other basis, many bipartisan groups (as well as the Obama administration) have placed a priority on examining ways to reduce barriers to entering jobs that are currently subject to onerous licensing requirements, preventing many low-income and previously incarcerated citizens from finding meaningful work.
Unlike the “spooky” Savannah requirement, most of the licenses targeted by this reform movement exist at the state level. For example, the state of Oklahoma recently set up a task force to examine efficient methods to cut licensing requirements in the most beneficial way.
While you may no longer need a license in (certain parts of) Georgia to tell ghost stories, you still do need a license, sometimes a very expensive one, in order to be a landscape architect, teacher assistant, and interior designer, among others. The excellent Institute for Justice report on the issue fully breaks down the different professions, and burdens to obtain a license for each.
Here’s hoping that law and policymakers continue to focus on the issue in the aggregate, and seek victories in reform at the state level that resemble the victory for tour guides in Savannah.
Ross Coker is Director of Research and Outreach of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the view of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (February 1, 2017). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.