Opinion: Carolina Beat

No. 761: State Gives Itself License to Overkill

I wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud while reading a magazine from Yale Law School. But a feature story in Legal Affairs about the writer’s unsuccessful attempt in Louisiana to pass a state-mandated test required of those seeking a florist license was hilarious. It conjured up slapstick images and witty dialogue worthy of a television sitcom.

The story was a great read and a classic case of government regulation gone crazy. So much so that the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, is helping some frustrated wannabe-florists with a lawsuit to test whether the Louisiana law impedes their desire to make a living. The magazine also reports that the attorney defending the law for the state has called it a “reasonable exercise of the state’s authority.”

That comment is nearly as funny as the writer’s experience making bouquets under the watchful eye of a state examiner, except that it illustrates some decidedly unfunny realities. Year by year, government intrusion into daily life grows, as does government’s thirst for revenue. Not much is deemed out of line — even forcing average Joes, who simply want to arrange and sell flowers, into a bureaucratic comedy filled with tests, watchdogs, and of course, fees.

Like Louisiana, North Carolina also foists unnecessary regulatory barriers on businesses and individuals. Look at the web pages of the Business License Information Office, part of the secretary of state’s office, and it will end any delusions you may have that starting a business in this state is easy. Among the prominent messages is, “The State of North Carolina has no single ‘business license’ that will ensure compliance with the numerous state licenses, permits and regulatory requirements. Additionally, the proposed business may be subject to local and/or federal requirements.” Apparently the state is really, really serious about making sure we understand that government is in charge.

The BLIO web site also links to more than 50 occupational licensing boards that license, investigate complaints, dole out discipline, and collect fees from anyone who has chosen one of those fields.

Some of the boards are appropriate, providing necessary oversight in areas that affect public health or safety, areas in which the consequences of malfeasance or poor quality can be deadly serious. For example, the North Carolina Medical Board licenses and oversees professional conduct of about 27,000 medical doctors and doctors of osteopathy licensed to practice in this state. The Board of Nursing does the same for nearly 120,000 RNs and LPNs. The margin for error in these professions is minuscule, and when negligence occurs, these professionals should face sanctions, including the potential loss of their licenses.

But can the same argument be made about low-risk, mundane, everyday activities handled by barbers, locksmiths, or librarians? No, yet each of these has a licensing board to administer North Carolina’s rules and regulations affecting the conduct and performance of its practitioners. Surely we can survive a bad haircut without government’s hand reaching in to make sure the culprit and his scissors can’t ever again inflict embarrassment on an unsuspecting customer in need of a good cut and blow dry.

The inefficient use of resources doesn’t end with the boards themselves. Somebody has to oversee these industry cops, and that brings us back to the state and our TV sitcom. Think about it. In a state office somewhere, workers are spending time on bad dye jobs, keys locked in the trunk, Internet usage, and book borrowing. And, they’re creating web pages to tell us about the rules. Remember that the next time someone tells you state government has been cut to the bone.
Humorous? Yes. But a laughing matter? Not hardly.