Occupational Licensing

Pennsylvania's Governor Calls for Abolishing 13 Occupational Licenses

Does Pennsylvania need to license barbers? How about "campsite membership salespersons"? Gov. Tom Wolf says no.



Being a barber, an auctioneer, or even a "campground membership salesperson" in Pennsylvania requires a state-issued license.

That should change, says Gov. Tom Wolf.

Wolf, a Democrat, called Thursday for the state legislature to abolish 13 occupational and professional licenses, following the completion of a year-long review of Pennsylvania's licensing laws. In place of some of those licenses, the Wolf administration says workers could be required to register with state boards. For others, such as hair-braiders, the administration has recommended eliminating the state's role entirely.

"Requiring a government license to work in certain jobs helps to keep all of us safe, but those requirements should be fair," said Wolf in a statement.

There are more than 1 million licensed workers in Pennsylvania, representing about 20 percent of the state's workforce. Wolf's proposals are more limited than the licensing reforms passed this year in Louisiana and Nebraska, but they're another sign of the rebellion against onerous licensing laws.

The Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce welcomes policies that "remove barriers to work, simplify the process for individuals entering the workforce, and make it easier for employers to fill positions," says Gene Barr, president of the Chamber. "As with any shift in policy, the details matter. We are still reviewing the reforms outlined by the Wolf administration."

Wolf also asked lawmakers to ease licensing requirements for military spouses, who run the risk of losing their state-issued permission slips if they have to move across state lines.

As Reason has previously noted, licensing rules can be particularly problematic for military families. According to the American Legion, more than 35 percent of military spouses work in professions requiring state occupational licenses. Military families are 10 times more likely to relocate across state lines than civilian families in similar professions, according to the Department of Labor.

The state will pursue options including licensing reciprocity—accepting out-of-state licenses as legal for work in Pennsylvania—and will look to streamline in-state licensing rules for military families. Those are good places to start, but the same changes should be applied to all workers, not merely to a privileged class of individuals connected to the military.

Wolf also called for the passage of "Second Chance" legislation to ease licensing requirements for individuals with criminal records. Specifically, Wolf wants to repeal Pennsylvania's automatic 10-year ban on licensing for anyone convicted of a drug felony. The 13 state boards that rely on that ban could consider criminal history as part of an overall decision about whether to license an individual, but would not be able to block an application merely because of a drug conviction.

This is a crucial aspect of licensing reform—and one that has caught on, with at least 12 states passing similar bills this year—because having a job is the best indicator of whether someone with a criminal record will commit another crime. Blocking individuals with criminal histories from a wide range of professions is counterproductive for both the economy and the criminal justice system.

Wolf isn't pushing anything that goes beyond what other states have done, but his middle-of-the-road proposals should not face much hostility from the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Elsewhere, licensing reform has been a bipartisan project, and it will have to be the same in Pennsylvania.

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  1. a “campground membership salesperson”

    Come again?

    1. License = fee = tax
      Got it now?

      1. How does this tell me what a campground membership salesperson is?

        1. It’s not specified whether camp ground is the remnants of coffee or the stuff where bugs thrive, but the idea you’d have to license people who sell memberships in clubs selling pound-a-month subscriptions is a classic example of government over-reach.

        2. Clearly it is a person who has paid a fee to the state to be a campground membership salesperson.

    2. Come again?

      Yeah, that’s the sales pitch at some campgrounds.

    3. Yes, I can finally auction off my getaway packages to Fist’s backyard. There are three different levels available:
      Swim ‘n Trim
      Escape To Manscape
      Reinvent In A Tent

    4. The law doesn’t define it
      https://www.pacode.com/ secure/data/049/chapter35/s35.228.html

  2. “Requiring a government license to work in certain jobs helps to keep all of us safe, but those requirements should be fair,” said Wolf in a statement.

    Half a loaf is better than none being duly noted, there’s still the idea that government’s top priority is keeping us safe and a cost/benefit analysis doesn’t count liberty in and of itself as being a benefit. How about “Requiring a government license to work in certain jobs is an extraordinary imposition on the rights of a free people and should require showing an extraordinary set of circumstances to justify the government’s imposition.”

  3. We’re just lucky* Fist has been diligent about keeping his Internet Commentor’s License up to date.

    * or something

    1. Too bad he didn’t pay for the humor license.


  4. Perhaps the labor shortage motivates politicians to enact licensing reform.

    1. Perhaps everyone tearing their hair out because of overbearing government worried the barbers

  5. Eliminating the barber’s license is YUGE. Almost all states have ridiculous schooling requirements for barbers, and to just drop it entirely is a tremendous low against the whole idea of occupational licensing.

    1. But they didn’t drop it entirely.

      How “certification from a licensed barber school, passage of examination, minimum hours of training, and registration with the State Board of Barber Examiners” differs substantially from the current licensure requirements escapes me, but I doubt its YUGE, or even huge.

      1. I didn’t see that part — fell for the headline. My mistake.

        1. Yeah, it’s a totally lame nothingburger.

          Kinda sad that Boehm is pimping it like it’s actually accomplishing anything, when it’s not.

      2. Hey, people are making money off those barber schools, exams and training courses and probably donate to many political campaigns.

      3. I think they will stop blocking ex-felons from getting barber licenses. Definitely something good, but not YUGE!

        1. Yes, that would be a step up.

  6. Most of those are not ‘eliminations’ they are simply altering them to some form of registration or certification.

    Which, if not now, could easily become just as onerous.

    Forgive me for being underwhelmed and unsurprised.

    Permission is not libertarian.

  7. Also ‘reciprocity’ is not ‘accepting out-of-state licenses as legal for work in Pennsylvania.’ It’s accepting out of state license as proper basis for granting licensure in Pennsylvania.

    Otherwise it’s a multi-state compact for licensure that is valid in participating states.

    Nobody does the former because then they have no standing to restrict the license for bad behavior in their home state. While the latter allows any participating state to take action that will then affect the use of the license in all participating states.

  8. I guess broken clocks can be right twice a day

    1. “Requiring a government license to work in certain jobs helps to keep all of us safe”

      Nope, even a broken clock wouldn’t say that

      1. I’d rather check with the BBB to see if this is someone I want cutting my hair or selling me a timeshare than the government.
        And if BBB ever goes rogue, I can check with whoever replaces it.
        All this can be resolved through trademark law and rating sites.

  9. Better option is to eliminate all licensing, and require a 120 day public comment period for any newly proposed restrictions on making a living, along with a 75% majority vote.

    1. This. I’m not opposed to the concept of self regulating professions. They are free association in action. I just don’t think they should be able to co-op government into their rules enforcer/market protector.

  10. Besides birthing the Liberal Party in 1931–with the repeal plank the Dems used to win five consecutive elections–Pennsylvania is 10th in terms of libertarian spoiler vote leverage. You are witnessing another instance of how your libertarian vote whams looters of “both” parties into the realization they must repeal gratuitous coercion laws or be defeated. The brass ring goes to whichever candidate is quickest to get the message libertarian votes are transmitting.

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