Ohio doesn’t license florists or fortune tellers like some states do (and who among us cannot imagine the problems unqualified fortune tellers can cause?) The larger issue for the state these days, however, is that when it does require a license for a particular job, it tends to have more, or higher, requirements than most of its sister states for that same job. That is one reason people do not relocate to Ohio to practice their trade.
In fact, according to a study by the Buckeye Institute for Public Policy published in 2015 and again in 2017, Ohio has unduly burdened low-income professions with lengthy, irrational licensing requirements. Even though the state requires licenses for fewer occupations than many other states, the average training requirement is 341 days.
More troubling than the length of training is the lack of a consistent relationship between these licenses and public health or safety. There is simply no way to explain the arbitrariness that allows an emergency medical technician to gain a license in about a month, while massage therapists need 175 days of instruction to obtain a license.
The Buckeye Institute, as well as the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, and my employer, the R Street Institute, have all concluded that when it comes to occupational licensing, a line should be drawn between the licensure of people who surgically repair injuries to human and animal body parts, people who fly planes, and people who design and build bridges, on the one hand, and interior designers, hair braiders and tour guides on the other. Relaxing or reforming some of these licensing barriers – especially those that are not designed to protect the public health and safety – is a worthy objective of this or any legislative session.
State Sen. Rob McColley of Napoleon and Rep. Ron Hood of Ashville, both Republicans, have authored Senate Bill 255 and House Bill 289, respectively, to bring Ohio law into harmony with the efforts of Ohio’s sister states to find jobs for their citizens. If enacted, a licensing board established or reauthorized under this law would have authority to grant licenses “narrowly tailored to protect against present, recognizable, and significant harms to the health and safety of the public.” In other words, the government would be required to use the least-restrictive mandate when creating requirements to work in a profession. A simple registration requirement, for instance, may satisfy public health and safety goals in lieu of a burdensome licensing process.
The main feature of the reform would be to automatically eliminate any occupational licensing authority that could not survive a review by an appropriate legislative committee, which would include citizen testimony, every five years. The committee would analyze each board’s “usefulness, performance and effectiveness.” A fifth of the licensing boards would be reviewed every year and, to be reauthorized, the boards would have to file a report on several specific considerations. Among these are “the extent to which the board has permitted qualified applicants to serve the public,” as well as how Ohio compares to other states in the extent of regulation, how third-party inspections by private contractors might be utilized and, most importantly, “whether or not the operation of the board has inhibited economic growth, reduced efficiency, or increased the cost of government.”
It is important to the state economy, to mobility and to lower income segments of our population – as well as government efficiency – that lawmakers consider these reforms seriously.