Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.

Use and abuse of licensing boards

Quoting a dubious bit of research, Mark Holden, senior vice president of Koch Industries, alleged in an opinion piece sent to North Dakota newspapers last year that repeal of occupational licenses in the states would create 3 million new jobs and save consumers over $200 billion.

With crocodile tears, he suggested that state lawmakers ought to consider how licensing regulations "stand in the way of low-income job-seekers and budding entrepreneurs."

Adam B. Summers of the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, agreed that "regulations disproportionately harm the poor and minorities, who generally have less work experience and fewer employment opportunities."

This think tank isn't thinking much when it assumes that people who have less work experience and fewer employment opportunities ought to be free roaming electricians, plumbers, counselors, chiropractors or any vocation that suits their fancy.

A more legitimate argument over licensing relates to the rehabilitation of ex-offenders.

Some states have laws that prohibit felons from engaging in certain occupations. For example, in Illinois a criminal record could prevent an ex-offender from becoming a boxing referee, acupuncturist, auctioneer or massage therapist.

According to a report in the Pew Charitable Stateline, each state has an average of 56 occupational licenses and 43 business licensing laws that ban applicants with felony convictions.

The idea of providing training for imprisoned offenders is a good one but is sometimes opposed by the practitioners in the field who do not want to see prisons generating more competition.

In fact, a widespread belief is that occupational licensing boards feel obligated to protect the profession by limiting the number of new practitioners through unnecessary academic requirements and a tedious licensing process.

While this may be occurring in North Dakota in very subtle ways, blatant cases have occurred.

In one case, a practitioner licensed in New York returned to North Dakota to practice and flunked the North Dakota exam. In disbelief, he requested to see his exam papers and the reasons for his failure and the board refused to provide an explanation.

Summers claims that licensing boards spend more time slowing the entry of new practitioners than punishing the wrongdoers who are already holding licenses. He calls it the "club mentality."

To buttress his call for repealing occupational licensing, he points to outrageous licensing laws that require licenses for the most mundane of professions.

Included in his list are fortune tellers in Maryland, manure applicators in Iowa, mussel dealers in Illinois, junkyard dealers in Ohio, florists in Louisiana, elevator operators in Massachusetts. He didn't include rainmakers in North Dakota.

It is true that some states have abused the licensing game. The number of licensed occupations runs from a low of 41 in Missouri to a high of 177 in California. North Dakota licenses 46 occupations.

Along with the 33 occupations licensed in all states, in recent years North Dakota has added interpretative health care, reflexology, medical imagery and radiology, and polysomnographic technology. Apparently, we are getting to the newer professions.

While red tape is widely condemned in the current crusade to deregulate society, regulation has become necessary according to James Madison, who said in one of the Federalist Papers that if men were angels we would need no government.

It is probably true that licensing boards need to do a better job of monitoring malpractice and keeping the charlatans at bay. Otherwise, I just want to be sure that my plumber knows what he is doing.

Lloyd Omdahl is a political scientist and former North Dakota lieutenant governor. His column appears Sundays.


Catch the latest in Opinion

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News