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“I believe in the free market,” he said. “But if you’re going to hire a mover or a limousine company, there is an expectation that you are getting someone who can do the job safely and economically, without price gouging.”
The battle rages elsewhere as well.
In 2009, Raleigh Bruner started a new moving company and learned that he had to obtain an “Intrastate Household Goods Certificate” from Kentucky’s perfectly bureaucratic-sounding Transportation Cabinet Division of Motor Carriers.
And the only way to do it was to win approval from the existing license-holders in the state.
Once one of those other companies protested, state law requires the new applicant to hire a lawyer ― owners are not allowed to represent themselves at the state board ― and begin a lengthy process of hearings that costs a new company valuable start-up cash.
In practice, the only way a new business can get a license is to prove there are not already enough movers in the market to meet demand, said Tom Underwood (no relation to Maurice), state director of the Kentucky chapter of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“This is a state-controlled monopoly, that’s all there is to it,” Tom Underwood said.
But the days might be numbered for the moving cartels in Kentucky. Brunner filed a lawsuit in federal court last year to get the Kentucky law overturned. Though the case is still pending, there is now legislation in the state Senate that would deregulate Kentucky’s moving industry.
Existing license holders oppose the change, saying it would decrease the value of their licenses, but Underwood points out that the licenses have only become such expensive commodities as a result of the state’s restricted market.
Despite the opposition, Underwood said there is enough support for the bill to be passed into law before the state Legislature’s annual session ends in mid-March.
These state licensing laws are hardly a new phenomenon ― and neither is the fight against them.
The first such laws were created in the late 19th century and designed to protect semi-monopolies like railroads, but they gradually evolved into government-enforced bans on competition in a variety of sectors.
In 1932, the U.S. Supreme Court struck what should have been a decisive blow. In New State Ice Company v. Leibmann, the court struck down an Oklahoma law that banned the delivery of ice unless a new delivery company could prove to a state board there was a public need for more deliveries.
The board that made the decision, perhaps unsurprisingly, was staffed by the owners of existing ice companies.
In the 7-2 ruling, Justice George Sutherland wrote “it is beyond the power of the state, under the guise of protecting the public, arbitrarily to interfere with private business or prohibit lawful occupations.”