Earlier this summer, the Texas Supreme Court overturned state licensing requirements for threading, the hair removal process most commonly used on eyebrows. The court found that the requirements, which prevented Texans from practicing hair threading unless they completed 750 hours of mostly irrelevant coursework, were an unconstitutional infringement on the right to earn a living.
While the court's decision will provide a few entrepreneurs much-needed regulatory relief, far too many other Texans still find themselves in a similar predicament. More than 500 occupations in Texas currently require some form of professional license, and nearly one-third of the state’s workers are employed in a licensed field. Jobs requiring a license range from auctioneer to travel guide — and in many cases are hardly the stuff of life and death.
Getting these licenses is not easy. A report by the Institute for Justice, a Libertarian public interest law firm, found that getting an occupational license in Texas cost an average of $304 in fees and required 326 days of training and two exams. Overall, Texas has the 17th most burdensome licensing requirements in the country, according to the report — hardly something to brag about in a state that prides itself on keeping government interference to a minimum. As a result, many Texans are locked out of careers because they cannot afford to give up the time and money it takes to get licensed.
What's more, a growing body of research suggests that licensing often does little to protect consumers from poor or dangerous service. A recent report issued by the White House found that while many licensing requirements did not increase quality of service, they did increase the price of services by between 3 and 16 percent.
Reversing the damage from over-licensing won't be easy. The first step should be to stop adding to the harm. In Colorado, proposals to license a new occupation must first go through "sunrise review," which is the flip side of the so-called “Sunset” review process Texas uses to reform state agencies.
During the sunrise review process, each proposal is scrutinized to see if there actually is a pressing need for additional regulation of the profession in question. If there is, the question turns to whether a less burdensome regulation would do just as well as a full licensing regime. These reviews would help legislators have a fuller picture of the likely effects of expanding the number of licensed occupations in Texas.
Texas also should give extra scrutiny to existing licensing during its regular Sunset review process. When an agency responsible for licensing an occupation goes up for review, it should be standard practice to consider whether licensing of that occupation serves the public interest or whether the public would be equally served by less restrictive means.
Even bolder options are available. Legislation filed in 2013 during the 83rd Texas legislative session would have given individuals a defense against administrative or criminal prosecution for violating licensing laws if they weren't harming state interests. Forcing licensing agencies to abide by this standard would ensure that licensing was confined to cases where it actually served the public interest, and wasn’t just limiting competition.
The right to earn an honest living in the occupation of one's choice is a core American and Texan value. It's time we did a better job of living up to it.