Report says low to middle-income licensing too burdensome in state

A recent study by the Institute for Justice confirmed what small business advocate Ron Aldridge already knew: Mississippi’s licensing requirements for low- and middle-income occupations are excessive.

The IJ report, released in May, reveals that Mississippi has what it calls “barriers of entry” for 55 of 102 low- and middle-income occupations examined. Four states license more of those occupations.

Overall, licensing requirements here are light, with only five states considered lighter. What the report laments are the burdens placed on those seeking work in an occupation whose pay scale is normally at the middle or toward the bottom.

For example, every state mandates a license for pest control applicators and vegetation pesticide handlers. What makes Mississippi onerous is the education requirements for each – two years, as compared to a national average of 191 days coupled with 93 days in training. To compare, 37 states require 10 training hours or fewer for pest control applicators; 42 states require the same amount for vegetation pesticide handlers.

The report concludes that Mississippi could make employment in the studies occupations easier by reducing — or in some cases, eliminating — the licensure requirements. That’s exactly what happened in 2005, when a law took effect that removed formal cosmetology schooling requirements for African hairbraiders.

Aldridge, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, was in the middle of the legislative process when that bill made the rounds at the Capitol.

“It wasn’t like they were dealing with chemicals like most cosmologists do,” he said of the hairbraiders. “They should have been exempt all along, and the Legislature agreed.”

Aldridge said he hopes a new, statutorily created small business regulatory review board can duplicate that success. “We think that may present a really good chance to start taking a look at some of the various licensing requirements that are already in place. Do some of those go too far? I think they at least need looking at.”

Those who usually support new licensure requirements most fervently, Aldridge said, are people already involved in a particular occupation. Grandfathering them into new mandates assures them of continued employment while making it harder for competition to develop. “It’s just a way to control the numbers,” Aldridge said.

“Are there some areas that need standards? Sure there are. Obviously, we would always succumb to public health and safety concerns. But if it’s not a question of either of those, we need to make it as easy as possible.”

The Mississippi Center for Public Policy in Jackson made licensure requirements one of its target issues before the African hairbraiders reform, said Forest Thigpen, the Center’s president.

“The problem is that we continue to treat people as if they’re incapable of making an informed decision without the government’s approval in their purchasing of goods and services. It’s more of a mindset than it is a direct burden in some cases. In some cases, it’s almost like a government-approved cartel.”

Thigpen echoed IJ’s assertion that the state’s overall licensing climate was not onerously heavy-handed. The problem, he said, is that – the African hairbraiders case not withstanding – government regulations rarely shrink. They are more likely to grow.

“It really is a tendency that we’re seeing more and more where people look to the government first as the arbiter of not only what’s right and wrong, but who can do a good job or provide a good service,” Thigpen said. “A lot of these just don’t make sense. For example, a manicurist in Mississippi requires more training than an emergency medical technician.

“Most of these occupations are practiced somewhere in the U.S. without a license and apparently without widespread harm,” Thigpen continued. “It raises the question of whether this licensing is necessary for public safety or to protect the existing practitioners from competition.”

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