New law forces TN to justify harassment by ‘occupational licensing’

More than 100 callings and professions are claimed by the state as its property in Chattanooga, requiring practitioners to be licensed. (Photo David Tulis)

More than 100 callings and professions are claimed by the state as its property in Chattanooga, requiring practitioners to be licensed. (Photo David Tulis)

“The right of individuals to pursue a chosen business or profession, free from arbitrary or excessive government interference, is a fundamental civil right.”

That’s how the Right to Earn a Living Act, passed overwhelmingly by the Tennessee General Assembly earlier this year, begins.

By Jim Brown and Justin Owen

While this bill did not receive as much attention as some of the others, this new law is an important one for economic liberty in our state. It addresses one of the biggest hurdles placed on Tennesseans who are trying to climb the economic ladder: occupational licensing. Obviously, we all expect our doctor or nurse to go to school and get a license to treat us. But did you know that in Tennessee, you need a license to run an auction or even wash someone’s hair?

A stunning 111 jobs require a license in our state, making Tennessee one of the most burdensome states in the nation for those trying to earn a living.

It hasn’t always been this way. Back in the 1950s, just one in 20 workers needed a license to work. Today, it has skyrocketed to one in three. And before even getting the license, which is essentially asking the government for permission to work, one must often attend many hours of school at a hefty cost, and then take a test before ever being “approved” to do their job. It takes an average of 222 days and costs an average of $218 to get a license in Tennessee. The time and financial burden puts many jobs out of reach for an estimated 15,000 Tennesseans.

The Right to Earn a Living Act offers the first step at taking a hard look at licensing laws and asking whether they exist to protect consumers’ health and safety or just to protect some people from competition. It will require the Legislature’s Government Operations Committee to review the various licensing laws, rules and regulations imposed upon Tennesseans to determine whether they are necessary.

Team action to help review

This review process will start in January and take place throughout the year.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee and National Federation of Independent Business have teamed up to help the Legislature conduct this important task. This week, we co-published a how-to guide to help lawmakers determine which licensing laws are necessary and which should be cast aside.

Download this report: How-to Guide: Right to Earn of Living Act

With the help of this guide, legislators can ask questions like: Why does it take an auctioneer two years of training while an emergency medical technician can be certified in six months? Is it really four times more dangerous to our safety to run an auction than it is to perform medical procedures? Why does someone need 300 hours of training and a license to perform a task most of us do daily, such as washing hair? Are there ways to protect consumer health and safety that don’t require a person to go to school, take a test and pay the government for permission to work?

Protecting consumers, opening liberty

There needs to be a balance between these barriers to entry and the ability of Tennesseans to work. With the Right to Earn a Living Act, we can strike that balance, protecting consumer safety while also allowing our fellow Tennesseans to get back to work. After all, their ability to get a good job free from unnecessary government red tape is an essential freedom. Now it’s up to the Legislature to recognize that freedom and protect it.

Jim Brown is the state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. Justin Owen is president and CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee.  

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