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Opinion: Licensure requirements hamper job growth

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At a time when many Missourians are struggling to make ends meet, the state’s occupational licensing boards are spending taxpayer dollars to kill jobs.

Decades ago, only doctors, lawyers, and accountants – about 3 percent of the work force – were required to get state licenses before they could lawfully practice. In time, however, people in other professions realized that they could insulate themselves from competition and increase their profits by creating legal industry barriers. Those already practicing a given profession would be exempted from licensing requirements, but newcomers would be required to take expensive classes and pass examinations in order to compete. With those licensing rules, even a skilled, experienced worker could face hefty fines – or even jail time – for accepting compensation from clients without first getting the state’s permission.

Today, nearly 30 percent of Americans cannot earn a living in their chosen professions without jumping through expensive regulatory hoops.

Not only is Missouri’s state government taking part in this paternalistic, protectionist pastime, it has gone on the warpath against citizens whose only offense is attempting to earn an honest living in a harmless profession.

The Missouri Real Estate Commission recently shut down a service in Kansas City at which a handful of young mothers were helping people find quality apartments. At trial, the government’s witnesses admitted that the information provided by the service was truthful, harmless, and required no specialized training. But, according to the trial court, if the legislature has decided to criminalize unlicensed discussions about real estate, honesty and harmlessness are no defense.

African hair braiding is a cultural art form passed down through centuries. These braiders do not use harsh chemicals or cutting instruments on their customers, and skilled braiders can provide for their families even if they don’t have formal training. For years, the Board of
Cosmetology has worked to shut down braiders who have not completed 1,500 expensive hours of cosmetology training. African braiding isn’t a required part of the curriculum, and may not even be included.

In the latest example, Missouri’s Veterinary Medical Board has sued to prevent horse owners from hiring anyone but licensed veterinarians from working on their animals’ teeth. Equine dentistry is a centuries-old profession that veterinarians traditionally avoided, and equine dentists have their own educational programs that offer far more training and experience with horses’ teeth than is offered in veterinary schools. Still, the law states that equine dentists must be punished with a $1,000 fine and a year in prison for every horse they treat.

Politicians are paying a lot of lip service to the ideas of saving taxpayer money and creating jobs. A great place to start would be calling off this bizarre witch hunt against hardworking citizens.

Dave Roland is an attorney and policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri-based think tank that can be reached at www.showmeinstitute.org.
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