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Scaling back occupational licensing requirements is in Utah’s best interest

In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 file photo, Richard Ward, owner of Richard Ward Hair & MetroSpa wears a protective face mask as he works in his salon in London.
Alberto Pezzali, Associated Press

Forcing someone to pay to obtain a permission slip from the government before they can earn a living sounds like something out of a dystopian novel. But this is the reality many Utahns must endure.

According to the Institute for Justice’s comprehensive research, Utah’s occupational licensing restrictions are the 24th most burdensome in the nation.

Starting a career is the first step people can take to better their lives and improve their circumstances. Unfortunately, out of 102 professions tracked in the study, 64 require a government license in Utah, meaning those coming from lower-income backgrounds often need to meet burdensome government mandates before they can even start to earn a paycheck. By mandating an entrance fee, as well as a state average of 504 days of education and experience before a person can begin earning money, many would-be hardworking individuals are prevented from entering the workforce.

Few if any of these restrictions have anything to do with protecting public safety.

In our state, for example, a person earning a living shampooing hair must complete 1,000 hours of education before they can earn money in a salon.

Virtually every one of us has shampooed our own or someone else’s hair at some point during our lives. Performing this everyday action shouldn’t require a permit.

To make matters worse, the shampooer’s license comes with a $234 government licensing fee in addition to the training hours and costs.

While shampooing isn’t a matter of life and death, some licensing restrictions are.

Several states made changes to their occupational licensing laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. To ensure that we didn’t encounter a health care worker shortage, many allowed out-of-state, licensed physicians to practice within state lines.

The sky didn’t fall when these laws were suspended. Instead, patients were able to get the care they needed because we didn’t have a shortage of essential health care workers. We can only hope that our legislators will take note. During the last legislative session, they took some steps. More are in order.

Senate Bill 23 followed other states’ lead such as Arizona by amending an existing law to make it easier for people from other states to come and work in Utah. So long as an individual’s out-of-state license is in good standing, they are free to work in the Beehive State.

Utah also expanded acceptance of certain foreign credentials for many medical professions, setting an example for other states to follow.

Unfortunately, SB23 excluded some important professions. It also allows the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing to reject an application based on reasonable cause, but the standards are only vaguely defined.

Another new law, Senate Bill 201, makes it easier for individuals with a criminal record to obtain a license after they exit the correctional system and return to their communities.

While this is a great step in the right direction, bureaucrats will still have the power to deny licensure, but they will have to make a case tying the crime to the core function of the profession.

While we applaud the legislature’s efforts, there is still more work to be done.

State Rep. Candice Pierucci, R-Salt Lake City, and state Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, are drafting legislation that would streamline various cosmetology licenses into one, much like a food handler’s permit.

“It’s crazy that we expect someone to go through hundreds of hours of training to have a license to charge someone to do an updo to their hair,” Pierucci said.

She continued:

“This issue especially resonated with me as I used to do my friends’ hair for dances, and then weddings, and on a couple of occasions was paid to do their hair. I was a freshman in college, and it hadn’t occurred to me that I would need to have a full-blown license to do a simple updo. This is a clear example of government overregulation and protective practices of the industry.”

Although the bill is still being drafted, we are hopeful that Utah lawmakers will pass this legislation and ease the regulatory burden on those eager to earn a living.

While leaders should ultimately prioritize full elimination of government occupational licensing mandates in cosmetology and utilize less burdensome oversight, this reform would move us in the right direction.

Heather Andrews is state director of Americans for Prosperity-Utah. Connor Boyack is president of the Libertas Institute.