President Thomas Jefferson predicted the future happiness of Americans provided, “(W)e can but prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them.” One of the best examples of the government wasting people’s labors involves occupational licensing. Those are the various rules, restrictions and standards state governments impose on people who simply want the freedom to do an honest day’s work.

Some rules are necessary to assure that, say, doctors have the skills necessary to perform their jobs. However, occupational licenses have become a way for existing practitioners of virtually every trade and profession to restrict new entrants into the job market as a means to reduce competition. Lawmakers pass the rules under the guise of protecting the public, but they end up imposing major hurdles on the ability of Americans to earn a living.

These days, liberals and conservatives are trying to figure out ways to boost the economic situation of people who are struggling to make ends meet. The Left pushes for higher minimum wages, for instance, while the Right pushes for tariffs and other trade protections. A much simpler, less restrictive and more successful way to achieve that goal echoes the ideas in Jefferson’s words: Governments should reduce unnecessary regulatory barriers.

Analyzing and unraveling the long list of licensing rules required by each state government is a tough and time-consuming process. Nevertheless, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and state Representative Warren Petersen have come up with a simple way to address this issue in a manner that should be noncontroversial because it does not eliminate any real (or perceived) protections. Legislators in capitols across the country should emulate this new bill.

House Bill 2569 would grant universal recognition for all occupation licenses, regardless of the state in which the worker received them. Arizona is a magnet for people from across the country as 122,000 people moved to the state over the latest accounting period (July 2017 to July 2018). That is the fourth-highest number of new citizens in the nation. One reason for the influx is the state’s phenomenally low unemployment rate.

There are jobs for all of the newcomers, Ducey said in his recent State of the State address. “Lots of them are trained and certified in other states,” he added. “Standing in their way of earning a living in Arizona, our own licensing boards, and their cronies who tell them – ‘You can’t work here. You haven’t paid the piper.’” The governor touched on the unstated truth about occupational licensing – it’s not about protecting the public as much as it is about protecting the existing bureaucracy, buffeting current professions from competition and pumping up fees paid to the state government.

“And before those unelected boards feign outrage – let’s remember: workers don’t lose their skills simply because they move to Arizona,” Ducey added. Note that Arizona already has such a law for the spouses of military personnel deployed to Arizona. That is a good and successful measure, but it should apply to all Arizonans, regardless of what state they hail from. Indeed, the new bill largely echoes the existing military-spouse law and adds “out-of-state applicants” into the mix.

The Arizona bill accepts the new applicant’s license provided that person was licensed in a state with minimum education requirements and work experience; has had the license for at least one year; has not had the license revoked or been disciplined by the regulatory body in the other state; and does not have a disqualifying criminal history. The new licensee must still pay the required Arizona state fee to the appropriate licensing board.

This is hardly radical stuff. We’re the United States of America. Residents of every state live under the same federal government and share similar customs and regulations. It’s silly to prevent one state’s resident from working in another state until that person goes through an entire training process that he or she already has completed somewhere else. Other states may be considering similar measures in their new legislative sessions.

As American lawmakers think of ways to boost the economic prospects of their constituents, the best starting point is to remove those rules that pretend to take care of them, but serve only to waste their honest labors.

Featured Publications