Another crack at reforming occupational licensing?

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones and Speaker Jon Burns recently announced the creation of a joint Blue-Ribbon Committee to look into reported issues with the Secretary of State’s Professional Licensing Boards Division.

This task could open the door for necessary reforms that make it easier to work and start a business in Georgia.

Georgia is rightly considered one of the best states in the country to do business. Georgia’s economy remains robust and the state remains a top target for newcomers, averaging about 1 million new residents per decade. This isn’t by accident, but because of sound economic policy decisions over the course of decades. 

However, one area where the state lags behind its competitors is occupational licensing. “License to Work” is a 2022 nationwide study from the Institute for Justice on how occupational licensing laws affect labor and freedom. IJ, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm that focuses on combating government overreach and defending constitutional rights, released previous editions in 2012 and 2017.

Occupational licensing, while often enforced in the name of safety, is just as often practically arbitrary and frequently does far more harm than good. One example the study points out is the often bizarre misalignment of licensing practices with occupational risk, such as how barbers and beauticians face greater average burdens than entry-level emergency medical technicians. 

The truth is the biggest proponents of occupational licensing are not the public but, most often, those who have already received a license. This naturally leads to fewer participants and less competition. It also limits choice and raises costs for consumers. 

The study catalogs 2,749 licenses nationwide and uses a sample of 102 lower-income occupations that require some form of government license or government-mandated prior qualification for entry. The good news for Georgia is that it requires relatively few licenses compared to other states. 

The bad news is that the barriers to obtaining those licenses are relatively high. The average license for low- and moderate-income jobs in Georgia takes 472 days of education and experience. In fact, Georgia’s regulations are the 12th-most burdensome.

A bigger-picture ranking demonstrates a more positive outlook, however. When combining average burdens with the number of licenses (among the 102 lower-income occupations sampled) each state requires, Georgia is only the 35th-most burdensome state. This is because Georgia requires far fewer licenses (40%) of the 102-occupation sample than the average among other states (53%).

So with work to do, what has been done to address this issue?

During the recently concluded two-year legislative cycle, Georgia became the latest state to adopt universal recognition, a measure the Foundation has pushed since 2021. With this, Georgia recognizes an occupational license obtained in another state when a new resident moves to the Peach State, rather than making them invest time and money in receiving another license for work they are already doing.

Georgia also removed licensing requirements altogether from niche beauty industry occupations, including shampooing and blow-drying hair. Considering the blowback from a relatively limited reform, it becomes more obvious why change is hard. 

Georgia also attempted to remove restrictions that make it harder for those with a criminal record to obtain an occupational license, even if their criminal record is not related to the license they hope to obtain. The measure had support from both sides of the aisle, but the House and Senate were not able to agree to a final compromise version. 

And one license was overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court. Last year, the Court unanimously ruled that a law requiring lactation consultants to obtain an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant certification, which requires roughly two years of college classes and 300 hours of supervised clinical work, was unconstitutional and violated Georgians’ right to earn an honest living.

That said, today, one in five Georgians requires an occupational license to work, and finding workers has only become difficult. Lawmakers seem to understand this. In the past two years, there have now been three committees or commissions designed to tackle the issue. 

Maybe the fourth time will be a charm. When a new General Assembly returns to Atlanta in 2025, they should use some of that time to continue their efforts at occupational licensing reform.

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