News: CJ Exclusives

Texas Ruling Targets State-Level Licensing

JLF expert advocates certification rather than licensing for many lines of work

RALEIGH — A ruling by the Texas Supreme Court earlier this summer striking down an occupational licensing requirement has raised hopes that other states, including North Carolina, will move to ease job licensing restrictions.

Jon Sanders, director of regulatory policy studies at the John Locke Foundation, would like to see a move away from licensing and toward voluntary certification in the state.

“I think North Carolina should get rid of most of its licensing,” Sanders said.

The Texas case involved eyebrow threading. Since 2011, Texas has required those practicing eyebrow threading, which involves removing eyebrow hairs by using cotton thread, to get a cosmetology license. Would-be eyebrow threaders had to complete 750 hours of training. By the state’s own admission, at least 320 hours of that time had nothing to do with eyebrow threading.

The Texas court ruled that the requirements violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

North Carolina doesn’t require those who practice eyebrow threading to get an occupational license. But it does require African hair braiders to get a cosmetology license.

The Institute for Justice, based in Arlington, Va., helped fight the legal battle against the Texas eyebrow threading law, and has also fought against African hair braiding laws and regulations in other states, including Utah, Texas, Washington, California, along with the District of Columbia.

North Carolina’s African hair braiding law, which passed in 2009, requires braiders to complete 300 hours in training and pass a test to get a license.

Sanders said the Texas eye threading case has similarities to the North Carolina African hair braiding case.

“That’s basically something that young girls were taught and has been a practice for about 5,000 years,” Sanders said of hair braiding. “It doesn’t use any chemicals. In this state, you have to get a cosmetologist license.”

Getting the 300 hours of schooling is expensive, Sanders said, adding that the schooling and testing requirements could be difficult for many immigrants to move to North Carolina with hair braiding skills.

“A lot of hair braiders are immigrants who don’t have a firm grasp in English,” Sanders said. “So it’s an additional burden.”

In an August report, Sanders noted that much of the harm from occupational licensing is to poorer residents. He noted that:

• The requirements limit competition for services, resulting in higher prices. They burden all consumers, but have a greater effect on the poor.

• Costly hurdles to gaining a license keep some would-be practitioners out, especially the poorest.

• Occupational licensing blocks many low-income people from becoming self-employed entrepreneurs.

Sanders noted in his report that moving away from a licensure system and into a voluntary certification system would have a number of advantages.

A certification system would lessen the mandatory hurdles for jobs and promote more competition with a greater range of providers, Sanders wrote.

Such a system would also promote more consumer choice while driving down costs of services because of increased competition, Sanders said.

Voluntary certification also would expand opportunities for entrepreneurship in low-income low-income communities. This could boost employment in those areas, he said.

Consumers still would be able to check certification if the shift were made, Sanders said. “Consumers could use that as a judge,” Sanders said, adding that it would still be illegal to falsely claim certification.

The JLF report came on the heels of a July “Framework for Policymakers” on occupational licensing published by the Obama administration’s Treasury and Labor departments, along with it Council of Economic Advisers. The federal report stated that while some occupational licensing requirements protect public health and safety, many serve as little more than barriers to entrepreneurship.

Among its recommendations, the report urged:

• Limiting licensing requirements to those that address legitimate public health and safety concerns to ease the burden of licensing on workers.

• Applying the results of comprehensive cost-benefit assessments of licensing laws to reduce the number of unnecessary or overly-restrictive licenses.

Barry Smith (@Barry_Smith) is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.