Legislature Still Has Chance to Eliminate Unnecessary Barriers to Work

Cutting, styling, shampooing, and curling hair properly takes some practice. But how much before a person is skilled enough to obtain a license to perform those tasks in California? The state says at least 1,500 hours of training are needed. Common-sense says far fewer.

In California, a cosmetologist is required to have 1,600 hours of training, a manicurist 400. Yet an emergency medical technician needs only 160 hours of training. A crane operator isn’t required by government to go through any training at all.

The compulsory education and practice needed to acquire an occupational license can take more than two years for those who have to have government permission to work. Yet the costs are not measured only in time. There is a financial burden, as well. The average cost of securing an occupational license in California is $486. And there are the exams to prepare for and take.

Don’t even think of freelancing. A locksmith who is caught working without a license in California can be fined $10,000 or spend as much as a year in jail.

The costs not only protect current job-holders from competition and keep many out of work — one academic said California’s unreasonable licensing rules cost 39,000 to 78,000 jobs — they also add to consumers’ financial burden. The Heritage Foundation has determined that this state’s occupational licensing requirements cost the average household $1,133 a year.

Of course, license advocates claim that their exclusionary nature protects consumers from shoddy operators. But don’t take their claim at face value. David Crane of the Hoover Institution is one of many who have noted that “studies have consistently found that licensing laws produce no better or safer services for consumers than do less protectionist and less costly alternatives.”

Only one state, Louisiana, has a higher licensing burden than California, where one in five workers is required to have a government-issued license to before they can do their jobs. The Institute for Justice calls California the “most broadly and onerously licensed” state in the country. At least 200 jobs, and maybe as many as 250, are licensed in this state. One estimate even says that 300 require a license. But maybe that might not even be the real number. The National Conference of State Legislatures says “the tangle of laws has become so thick that a commission in California recently admitted that the state has no way of knowing how many occupations it licenses.”

Sacramento is not without a few who want to reform a system that has been described as a “racket,” and is a significant disincentive for entrepreneurs and innovators. Republican Assemblymen Randy Voepel and Kevin Kiley introduced bills that were intended to lower the licensing hurdles while Republican Sen. Mike Morell has introduced Senate Bill 999. It “removes the practices of shampooing, arranging, dressing, curling, and waving the hair of any person from the practice of barbering and cosmetology” that require a minimum of 1,500 hours of training to obtain a license.

While neither of the Assembly efforts will make it to the floor for a vote, SB 999 still has a chance. It has reached the Senate Appropriations Committee, where action is pending. Moreover, Morrell has also introduced Senate Bill 1371, which he says would require the state to compile a “list of all occupational licenses required by California.” That’s one way to find out just how pervasive the state’s licensing regime is.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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