Florida has some of the nation's most onerous licensing laws, but state lawmakers there have taken the first step towards undoing some of the most outlandish requirements for low-income professions.
On Friday, the Florida House voted 74-28 to approve a bill that slashes licensing requirements for would-be barbers, hair-braiders, and manicurists. It also reduces the licensing burden for a number of professions that you probably don't even associate with licensing, like geologists and timekeepers at boxing matches.
As state legislative sessions get underway this month, occupational licensing figures to be an important—if under the radar—issue in almost every statehouse. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta has called for state legislatures to ease licensing requirements, following-up on similar calls to action issued by the Obama White House three years ago. Combined with support for reform from government agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and academics from all sides of the political spectrum, licensing reform has a chance to be a truly bipartisan economic issue in an era where few of those exist.
In Florida, for example, the licensing bill offered by a trio of Republican lawmakers got broad support from both Democrats and Republicans in the House. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, it was one of 24 pieces of legislation—out of more than 2,700 bills filed—selected for consideration in the opening days of the legislative sessions, which began last week. Because the Florida Legislature holds a relatively short, 60-day session, getting fast-tracked on opening day gives the bill a much better chance of becoming law.
If it clears the Senate and gets a signature from Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, the bill would cut in half the number of hours needed to become a barber, from 1,200 to 600 hours, and would exempt a number of specific skills—including body wrapping, hair wrapping, applying makeup and applying nail polish—from the state's cosmetology licensing laws. It would also reduce the amount of training necessary to become a licensed nail specialist (someone who is allowed to perform manicures and pedicures, in addition to applying nail polish) from 240 hours of training to 150 hours.
Requiring hundreds of hours of training to do something, like cutting hair or filing nails, that plenty of people do at home for free is still excessive. Particularly because getting an emergency medical technician license in Florida requires only 110 hours of training—10 times less than the current requirement for barbers. There's no real public health and safety reason for the state to require a license for barbering or cosmetology, but reducing those requirements is still a step in the right direction.
The bill also targets licensing requirements in a number of more obscure professions. It would repeal Florida's licensing requirements for geologists and for boxing timekeepers and announcers. It would also allow licensed yacht brokers—yes, a real thing—to operate more than one office under a single license.
Florida still has a long way to go. According to the Institute for Justice, a national libertarian law firm that tracks licensing requirements across the states, Florida has the fifth most burdensome requirements in the country.
"Occupational licensing is one of the biggest barriers stopping Floridians from finding work," says Justin Pearson, managing attorney of the Institute for Justice's Florida office. "This vote is a welcome first step to paring back many arbitrary, onerous and just downright pointless regulations that infringe on the right to earn an honest living."