Tour guides in Charleston, S.C., face arrest if they are not licensed by the city to share the town’s history with visitors.
The occupational licensing rule requires applicants to pass a 200-question written exam with a grade of 80 percent or higher — in addition to passing an oral exam from city officials. Test questions are taken from a 490-page study guide that costs $45.
Charleston volunteer historian Mike Warfield, who had planned to open a business giving tours of historic pubs and haunted sites around the city, recently was derailed by the tour guide requirements and — along with two other plaintiffs — is helping lead a lawsuit against the city.
Warfield failed the tour guide exam, which is given only four times each year. His business plan is on hold indefinitely, and the historian says that his First Amendment rights — which give him the freedom to speak freely in the public square — have been violated by the city’s regulations.
The city, however, holds that its licensing process is necessary to “provide accurate, factual, and updated information to its visitors and residents.”
Charleston’s occupational licensing conflict reflects a similar, statewide discussion now taking place in North Carolina, a state with some of the most aggressive licensing requirements in the United States. A 2012 report from the free-market public-interest law firm Institute for Justice titled “License To Work,” surveying occupational licensing requirements among the 50 states, ranked North Carolina 21st overall in the number of occupations licensed and overall burden of licensing requirements, the most burdensome regime of any neighboring state except for Georgia (at No. 37 nationally).
North Carolina’s General Assembly is now scrutinizing occupational licensing requirements in an effort to throw out some of the more confusing regulations.
“You shouldn’t have to pass a test, let alone two, to tell a story,” said Arif Panju, an attorney for IJ, which is representing the plaintiffs. “Any law that requires people to pass a 200-question written exam and an oral exam to tell stories as a tour guide flunks every test under the First Amendment.”
Click here to learn more about the effort to break down occupational licensing barriers in North Carolina.