At a time every politician’s top priority seems to be creating jobs, North Carolina lawmakers hope to impose new barriers to entrepreneurs, proposing nearly a dozen new occupational licensing laws this session. Those that pass would require thousands of North Carolinians to go back to school and pay thousands of dollars for a license to continue doing the jobs they already perform.
From landscaping to braiding hair to picking locks, state legislators think a license is essential. And if a bill targeting your occupation becomes law, and you engage in one of these activities for pay without a license, you could be guilty of a misdemeanor or a felony.
Only one bill may become law during the current session: Senate Bill 447, which would expand the definition of landscaping contractors, making many more actions that are now allowed against the law without a license. It passed the Senate and was in the House when the long session ended. But moves to expand licensing requirements retain bipartisan support, even under conservative Republican leadership. [See editor’s note at end.]
Supporters of these laws say they’re an essential means of protecting consumers from frauds and charlatans. But critics say many licensing laws get most of their support from people already practicing the profession who want to limit competition and government officials seeking greater regulatory powers. These laws also would increase consumer costs, as practitioners of newly licensed occupations would boost their prices to compensate for the time and expense licensing entails.
Music therapy is the “clinical and evidence-based” use of music to improve a client’s “emotional, physical, and spiritual health, social functioning, communication abilities, and cognitive skills.”
It is dangerous to practice music therapy without the proper education and training, according to Rebecca Engen, a music therapy professor at Queens University.
“It is possible to use music harmfully,” Engen said at a meeting of the Legislative Committee on New Licensing Boards June 1. “You can use music that’s the wrong tempo or … that does not have the right musical qualities, and it can affect someone physiologically in a way that it can be damaging.”
That’s why Engen supports House Bill 429, which would make it illegal for anyone to implement music treatments including “music improvisation, receptive music listening, song writing, lyric discussion, music and imagery, music performance, and movement to music” without a license.
Herbalists, personal trainers, and shoemakers
The Naturopathic Licensing Act — Senate Bill 467 — would require naturopaths, homeopaths, and herbalists to get a doctorate degree and a license to continue doing their jobs. The degree would have to be from a college approved by the newly created Naturopathic Doctors Licensing Board and the license would cost $800 upfront and $200 a year after that.
Anyone caught dispensing, administering, or advising the use of natural remedies — including food, food extracts, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and botanicals — without a license would be guilty of a misdemeanor.
Bill sponsor Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, said it’s important to regulate and license people working in medicine — natural or conventional — to protect consumers from “snake oil salesmen.”
House Bill 639 would require the licensure of “exercise physiologists,” a.k.a. personal trainers.
Anyone who “formulates, develops, or implements exercise prescriptions, protocols, or programs” would be required to get a master’s degree in clinical exercise from a board-approved college. The license fee would cost $125 annually.
Senate Bill 230, Pedorthist Licensure, requires makers of orthotic shoes to become licensed.
The bill defines the practice pedorthics as “the design, manufacture, modification, or fit of custom shoes … to prevent or alleviate foot problems caused by disease, congenital defect, overuse, or injury.”
The license would cost $350 initially and $350 every other year after that.
Landscapers, locksmiths, property managers, hair braiders
S.B. 447 is the measure defining additional landscaping activities for pay without a license:
The bill defines a landscaping as “installing, planting, repairing, and managing gardens, lawns, shrubs, vines, trees, or other decorative vegetation, including the finish grading and preparation of plots and areas of land for decorative utilitarian treatment and arrangement.”
Landscape contractors have been licensed since 1975. But S.B. 447 would, among other things, include “horticulture consultation,” “planting design,” and installing “low voltage lighting systems” as professional services requiring a landscaping contractors’ license. [See editor’s note at end.]
Senate Bill 373 would require community association managers to be licensed.
The bill defines a community association manager as anyone who
executes the resolutions and decisions of a community association, collects or disburses money belonging to a community association, and prepares budgets, financial statements, or other financial reports for a community association.
Lock-picking already is a licensed profession in North Carolina, but House Bill 889 would provide added protections to ensure no one is profiting from the practice without a license.
“No person shall possess any locksmith tools [tools designed or used to open a mechanical or electrical locking device] unless the person is licensed as a locksmith under this Chapter,” the bill states.
The bill also triples locksmith license and license renewal fees from $100 to $300.
Under a law enacted a year ago, it is illegal to engage in African hair braiding without a license.
House Bill 791 would make it more difficult for those engaged in hair braiding before the bill became law to be grandfathered into the profession. Previously, anyone already in the profession before the law passed was exempt from licensure and additional educational requirements. Now braiders would have to prove they were working in the profession in North Carolina at least two years before the law passed.
Midwives and radiologic technicians
House Bill 753 would require the licensure of X-ray techs and radiation therapists.
House Bill 522, Midwifery Licensing Act, is a little different from other licensing bills this session.
There are two kinds of midwives — certified nurse midwives and certified professional midwives or “lay” midwives. Nurse midwives already are licensed and practice legally in North Carolina, while certified professional midwives can be thrown in jail.
This bill would allow certified professional midwives to attend women choosing to give birth at home without getting a nursing degree. They still would be required to pay license fees and regulated by the state, but the rules wouldn’t be as stringent as they are for nurse midwives.
Who does licensing help?
While many occupational licensing laws are passed in the name of protecting the public, they hurt many more than they help, says Morris Kleiner, professor of labor economics at the University of Minnesota and author of Licensing Occupations: Ensuring Quality or Restricting Competition?
Typically, Kleiner said, the only parties helped by occupational licensing are those already established in the occupation, who seek to protect themselves from competition by setting up barriers to entry, and the state, that collects hundreds of dollars per professional per year in licensing fees. Entrepreneurs and consumers are damaged by licensing laws.
The laws are intended to “keep people out of the occupation,” Kleiner said. They prevent low-income individuals from creating their own jobs and drive up the cost of services.
While many with libertarian sympathies may say it’s OK to license medical occupations, Kleiner says it isn’t.
Right now almost 80 percent of medical workers are licensed, he said. It’s the most regulated industry in terms of occupational licensing. And it’s also the most expensive.
“And then you have the battle within the occupation,” Kleiner said. “Should only a nurse be allowed to prescribe medicines? Should she be allowed to perform simple well-baby exams? Or is that something only a doctor should do?”
“A nurse practitioner might provide some of these services at a much lower price, but the regulation says only a doctor can provide them.”
If there were an area where licensing clearly benefited the public and reduced a health and safety hazard, Kleiner said he would certainly support it. But he has not seen an example of one.
“You can cook up a reason to license virtually anybody,” he said. “You could have a server at a restaurant give you the wrong food and you could die.”
There are more than 800 occupations that are licensed by at least one state, ranging from florists to interior designers to surgeons, Kleiner said. About 29 percent of U.S. workers are required to get a license from local, state, or federal government in order to do their work.
Kleiner suggests a good way to create jobs and jumpstart the economy would be to start repealing occupational licensing laws, rather than creating new ones.
Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.
Editor’s note: This story was corrected after publication to clarify Senate Bill 447.