News: CJ Exclusives

NCGA Committee Delays Occupational Licensing Reforms

Bill consolidating and eliminating licensure boards may wait until 2017 legislative session

A legislative oversight committee decided on Tuesday to delay a push to eliminate and consolidate a number of occupational licensing boards.

“We’re still gathering information,” Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, told the Joint Legislative Administrative Procedure Oversight Committee. “I’m still hearing from boards and we’re still hearing from citizens.” He asked the committee to continue the process of gathering information on licensing boards.

The committee voted to continue pursuing reforms in the occupational licensing process. Lawmakers will be back in Raleigh on April 25 for the 2016 short session and could consider other legislation dealing with licensure reform. Oversight committees generally do not meet while the General Assembly is in session, so it will likely be later in the year before the committee revisits the issue. The oversight committee could prepare a recommendation for the 2017 long session.

Proponents of reform say the current licensure system imposes barriers on entrepreneurs and that reform could expand economic opportunities for people with lower incomes who may have difficulty paying for the education and formal training required by licensing boards.

Jon Sanders, director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, told a subcommittee in January that restrictive licensing practices tend to boost overall earnings for those already in the business at the expense of driving up consumer costs. He recommended that lawmakers consider moving to a voluntary certification process instead of the licensure practice.

Al Downs, economic policy analyst for Generation Opportunity, a nonprofit group that pushes free-market ideas to young adults, told Carolina Journal that reform would benefit young people trying to get into the job market.

“Even proponents of occupational licensure mandates will admit that these requirements serve as a barrier to entry for potential market participants,” Downs said. “They will argue that government standards must be in place to protect people from incompetents, charlatans, and quacks, thereby improving the quality of services offered.”

But Downs cited research from the University of Chicago comparing states imposing licensure requirements on some occupations to states that do not impose those requirements, and said the studies found no evidence showing the quality of services in licensure states was superior.

The committee on Tuesday postponed any recommendation after hearing from a string of supporters of the current licensure system.

Among them was the Rev. Lee Dukes, a member of the N.C. Board of Fee-Based Practicing Pastoral Counselors, one of the boards targeted for elimination.

“Psychiatrists tell me that I have been able to work with clients who would never have entered their offices,” Dukes said. He said clients have told him that they seek out his services because he brings “an element of spirituality” into his counseling. He said the legislation would shut down the profession.

Craig Blevins, who spoke through a translator, argued for keeping the N.C. Interpreter and Transliterator Licensing Board for people who are deaf or have other hearing impairments.

“For me to talk with you today I have to have an interpreter interpret for me and I have to trust that interpreter,” Blevins said. “I can trust this interpreter because he has a license.”

One committee member, Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, said he was surprised by the list of occupational boards proposed for closure.

Collins said he was expecting to see occupations like hair braiders — whose professions are not considered to pose risks to public health or safety — on the list of those boards scheduled for elimination. “I think what we got instead was probably the things that are most important to have licenses,” Collins said. “We’ve got a lot of health care professionals in there, a lot of mental health care professionals.”

In addition to pastoral counselors and interpreters, the proposed legislation recommended eliminating the boards of electrolysis examiners, irrigation contractors, recreational therapy, acupuncture, athletic trainers, foresters, locksmiths, podiatry examiners, alarm systems, insurance continuation education advisory committees, employee assistance professionals, perfusionist advisory committee, and public librarians. Under the proposal, those boards would have been eliminated May 1, 2017.

The proposal would have consolidated some boards. Those are the boards of opticians, midwifery, respiratory care, marriage and family therapy, substance abuse professionals, and Cape Fear and Morehead City piloting commissions.

After the meeting, Wells said the boards targeted for closure were chosen after looking at whether other states, particularly those bordering North Carolina, set up licensure boards for those professions.

Wells also said that he’s optimistic that eventually, some of the current licensure boards will be eliminated or consolidated. “Part of these cannot be justified in their current structure,” he said.