KAY: With Respect To Licensing, What’s Good For The Goose Is Good For The Leges

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post from John Kay, Louisiana state director of Americans for Prosperity and a well-known opponent of the state’s draconian occupational licensing regime.

This past year, Americans for Prosperity–Louisiana worked alongside state Rep. Julie Emerson pushing a package of bills to change the way Louisiana licenses low- to moderate-income occupations. Our goal was to eliminate licenses for florists and natural hair braiders, and subject all licenses to a sunset/sunrise review once every five years.

Licensing florists and hair braiders does nothing to protect the public; it only protects from new competition those already in the industry and prevents people from earning an honest living doing what they love.  In fact, the hair-braiding licensing is being rolled back in states across the nation as legislators come to realize that twisting hair does not pose a health threat.  As for florists, we are the only state in the nation that licenses them.

Furthermore, the citizens of Louisiana deserve a periodic review of the other licenses on the books to ensure they aren’t needless barriers to people realizing their potential and becoming fulfilled.

Yet, the legislature decided against eliminating any licenses and watered down the sunset provision. With that failure to act, Louisiana retains the distinction of being the most licensed state in the nation, according to the Institute for Justice.

As usual, politicians opposing these commonsense measures hid behind “protecting the people,” as if hair braiders were a public menace.  Rep. Schexnayder said, “Being licensed to me is not necessarily to obstruct business or to stop someone from growing their business. It’s to protect consumers.”

Other opponents said things like “You want to have the means to make sure that people are qualified to do the work they do” and “you’re going to set up a situation where anybody can open a floral shop and there’s no method to regulate the industry and protect the public.”

Given their commitment to protecting the public, I have another plan that outspoken legislators such as state Rep. Clay Schexnayder and state Sen. Regina Barrow should absolutely love. In fact, I expect that they will both immediately offer to sponsor legislation to implement the idea.

So what is my proposal to legislators? License yourself.

If you believe Louisianans can’t possibly choose a florist without your help, what makes you think we are discerning enough to choose unlicensed public officials?

If it is your sincere belief that the people need protecting from faulty flowers or bad braids, don’t they need even more protection from politicians who don’t have the scruples or experience to be in office?

Don’t roll your eyes, think about it. Can a florist cause more harm to consumers than a politician?

In Louisiana, we have a governor who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for extortion, beaucoup insurance commissioners who did time for their misdeeds in office, a congressman convicted of bribery, and even a state senator who was convicted of bribery for blocking legislation in a committee he chaired.

What’s that state senator been up to since then? He recently sued the attorney general to force approval of his contract to serve as executive counsel for the Louisiana contractor licensing board. That’s after serving as counsel for the auctioneer board – and we all know what an abject disaster the auctioneer board is.

Did I mention that I can’t make this stuff up?

A common refrain in Louisiana in reference to our political climate is that “Half the state is under water, the other half is under indictment.” The “threat” from florists and hair braiders pales in comparison.

So, how can we fix the corruption problems that have plagued us for many decades?  Drawing on the requirements placed on hair braiders, florists, and others in Louisiana, I propose that the newly-minted Louisiana Politician Licensing Board promulgate the following rules to protect voters:

  1. Require 500 hours of training at a state-approved institution that would ensure politicians are qualified to run for office. This shouldn’t cost less than the $11,000 that it costs to attend cosmetology school to satisfy the requirements to become a hair braider in Louisiana.
  2. Take a written test that gauges the competency of a would-be-politician at a cost of roughly $200. You’ll also want to buy the book for around $100 or maybe even take the classes for $1,600, just to make sure you pass.
  3. Achieve four years of political experience prior to licensure, much like the four years required to be an interior designer in Louisiana after attending two years of school. Note that if you do not attend an accredited program, your training may not be accepted by the state.
  4. Finally, once you have completed the requirements above, the would-be-politician will have to receive a thumbs up or thumbs down from the politicians who serve on the licensing board. What? You’re planning to run against one of them? Doesn’t matter.  They will still have to approve your application.  You wouldn’t suspect any funny business from your competitors, would you? After all, they’re simply “charged with protecting the public.”

Is this tongue-in-cheek article ridiculous? Probably. But it is no more ridiculous than the legislature rejecting commonsense proposals to bring our occupational licensing laws into the 21st century.

There are licenses that need to be eliminated, changed and simply reviewed every few years to make sure they are still relevant. Saying we need to keep all these licenses because we’ve always had them is no more valid than saying Louisiana will always be corrupt because we’ve always been corrupt.

There is no time like the present to turn over a new leaf.

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