Too many jobs need state licenses, critics say

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING – One out of five workers in Michigan needs a state license to work, according to the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Its report says the state licenses about 160 occupations, a requirement that it claims raises prices for consumers by up to 30 percent.

That’s too many types of licenses, says the Midland-based free market-oriented think tank, although some experts say there are occupations that should be licensed but aren’t.

Some occupations should be regulated, “but what we do is just too high right now,” said Jarrett Skorup, the Mackinac Center’s director of marketing and communications.

Skorup started to pay attention to licensing regulation in 2011 after national reports began to look at licensing.

To get a barber’s license, applicants must complete 1,800 hours of coursework at a licensed barber college and pass an examination, according to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Skorup said he thinks the number of hours required to work as a barber is overwhelming. “If you want to cut hair or shampoo hair, you have to do more hours of training than someone who’s an airline pilot.”

“If you go cook in a restaurant, there’s no license to be a cook,” Skorup said. “The state doesn’t require any license for that, so why does it require a license for so many other areas?”

According to Skorup, many occupations require a license in Michigan but are unlicensed in many other states, such as forester, animal control officer and butter grader.

He said the state should allow people to work without a license in any field that isn’t dangerous to the public, like shampooing hair and being a court typist.

“I think that industry can figure out how good people are at that,” Skorup said.

Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, said he thinks Michigan is a too-heavily regulated state. “It seems like there are permits for everything.”

Some of the requirements make sense, but the state has taken it “a little bit too far,” he said.

Cole, a member of the House Michigan Competitiveness Committee, gave the example of licensing maple syrup producers, which is a concern that was brought to his attention: With less than $25,000 in gross sales of maple syrup, a producer requires a permit costing $186. The price rises to $471 for those selling more than $25,000 worth.

“The inspection happens every other year, but you are paying this every year,” Cole said. “This is the same cost to inspect a Meijer store or a Kellogg’s foods, that kind of thing.”

He said such fees are too high and “across-the-board.”

Occupational licensing should be driven by the private sector, according to Cole. “The private person should make the decision if they are qualified or not. We need greater freedom for employees and individuals to start to run and maintain a business.”

Some licensing regulations are holding job seekers back, especially those with a criminal background, according to Skorup. “For most areas, it said if you have a criminal background, the state can deny you the ability to work.”

He gave an example of licensing a roofer: “If you want to be a roofer — which requires a license — the state will review your criminal background and will limit you from being able to work. That’s problematic and traps people who have a criminal background and want to get back to work.”

Skorup said the licensing should come from the standpoint of health and safety. “Right now the state doesn’t really know what things are necessary because it relates to health and safety, and what things they are requiring that really get in the way of people trying to find work.”

There are different views on what the public interest is, however.

Ross Yednock, the program director of the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition at the Community Economic Development Association of Michigan, said the state is not an overly regulated state. The agency is a nonprofit trade association.

He also said there’s a lack of licensing for some occupations, including tax preparers..

Michigan has no regulations for them.

According to  Stateline, a Pew Charitable Trust initiative, in 2014, only four states had license requirements for independent tax preparers.

Many people are surprised to find out that they paid $200 to have someone without a license do their taxes, Yednock said. “There should be some sort of guarantee that the person doing your taxes knows what they’re doing and is trained.”

Yednock said it’s “really up to the state” to set regulations for tax preparers.

Pardeep Toor, the public information officer at  Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said the department has worked closely with legislators to improve occupational licensing regulations, including the elimination of licensing for some occupations, such as auctioneer, community planners and ocularist.

According to Toor, the department has worked to ensure that any new legislation regarding occupational regulation is not excessive and needed to protect the public.

“In many cases, licensure is necessary to protect the safety of Michigan citizens,” Toor said.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley said that for license requirement that are not being repealed, the most important thing is to make sure “the process is more efficient and responds more quickly, and we get answers to people more quickly.”

For example, Calley said licensing of nurses used to take about seven weeks but the state streamlined the process and gets it done in two weeks.