Like many Georgians, I’ve found licensing requirements in other states somewhat amusing. For instance, Massachusetts requires fortune tellers to be certified to divine the future and Louisiana strangely requires florists to be licensed to sell their goods.

Yet Georgians are not immune from ludicrous licensing schemes. The Peach State has its fair share of similarly-bizarre requirements. PreNeed cemetery sales agentsauctioneers and even librarians must be certified. Perhaps a license really is the only method of ensuring that librarians really grasp the antiquated Dewey Decimal System, but common sense suggests otherwise.

While at first blush these requirements are amusing, their effects are often as insidious as they are profound. Some licensing boards require applicants to clear costly and time-consuming hurdles, which often include mandated minimum education, annual continuing education, numerous exams and, of course, paying educational institutions and the state for the privilege of being allowed to work. The expenses associated with these requirements are far from minor. In fact, a recent study found that Georgia requires on average $185 in fees, over 460 days of education and the passage of two exams in order to acquire a license in any given profession.

The significance of the challenges presented by licensing regimes has grown over time as the number of professions subject to them has risen. In fact, since 1950, the percentage of workers required to obtain licenses to practice their profession has jumped from 5 percent to nearly 30 percent.

In practice, these mandates often create unnecessary, unfair and arbitrary barriers to employment. Consider that in Georgia, while emergency medical technicians must complete only 110 hours of education, barbers must complete a whopping 1,500 hours of education.

These requirements are more than simply arbitrary; they also prevent individuals from obtaining work and take those already employed away from their jobs to fulfill continuing education requirements. While these onerous mandates negatively impact a host of workers, more often than not, they have a heightened adverse effect on the underprivileged, who can ill-afford the educational and licensing expenses or missing work to satisfy the mandates.

My father once told me, “If you have to pay to work, then it is probably a scam.” Those sage words largely ring true here. Licensing requirements in many instances are not only wholly unnecessary, but costly, which sounds very much like a scam. In many cases, the mandates exist at the behest of industry professionals to ensure fewer individuals are admitted to their profession. This artificially provides seasoned practitioners with better job security and wages, given that it limits their competition.

Other licensing requirements purport to protect consumers from unqualified or unscrupulous practitioners. However, rather than relying on a bureaucratic government licensing system, non-government, third-party organizations can accomplish the same objectives without many of the burdens. Institutions like the Better Business Bureau, Yelp and Angie’s List already do this, which renders much of the state’s occupational licensing unnecessary. Alternatively, requiring private businesses and practitioners to be bonded and/or subject to public inspections could also encourage proper behavior and mitigate risks to consumers in a less-disruptive manner.

Occupational licensing has become unnecessarily onerous in Georgia and an undeniable burden on the Peach State’s workforce. Fortunately, help may soon be on the way. Earlier this legislative session, Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, introduced HR 744 to encourage the Georgia Occupational Regulatory Review Council to periodically audit current boards that grant individuals occupational licenses, and the House of Representatives approved the measure.

The resolution is intended to determine which, if any, occupational licenses are actually necessary. HR 744 is a positive, if symbolic, step in the right direction. Yet given the drag occupational licensing imposes on the state’s economy, the proliferation of such licensing demands more immediate and concrete legislative action than periodic reviews.

Georgia was recently rated the number one place to do business. While this is a proud distinction, Georgia is dubiously ranked as the 14th most burdensome state when it comes to licensing for lower-income occupations. Clearly more needs to be done, possibly including reducing the obstacles to obtain these licenses or repealing unnecessary licensing laws altogether. At least HR 744 starts the conversation.


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