Excessive Occupational Licensing: A Solvable Problem

Editor’s Note: This commentary is lightly edited, and adapted from Cathy Costello’s testimony, on August 23, before the Oklahoma Department of Labor’s Occupational Licensing Task Force

I want to thank you Commissioner [Melissa] Houston and this task force, and commend you for bringing to the table this important and needed discussion regarding licensing which affects thousands of Oklahoma workers and employers. Coincidentally, as you know Commissioner Houston, today is the 2nd anniversary of the passing of Labor Commissioner Mark Costello. I am pleased and excited that today we are discussing an issue Commissioner Mark Costello was passionate about.
Commissioner Costello was always looking to best practices and in 2010 he was promoting Florida’s one-stop-shop with the hope to adopt that practice here in Oklahoma. Commissioner Costello was already streamlining licensing by closing the Tulsa DOL office and offering licensing on-line.
The burden of excessive occupational licensing in Oklahoma is unfair to both workers and employees. The problem is significant, it’s getting worse, but it is also solvable.
Back in the 1950s only 1 in 20 workers in the United States was required to obtain licensure. Today, nearly one in three workers is required to obtain a license.
According to a 2015 White House study on Occupational licensing, “Overall, the empirical research does not find large improvements in quality or health and safety from more stringent licensing. In fact, in only two out of the 12 studies, was greater licensing associated with quality improvements.”
As a business owner myself, I am aware of licensing, from my early days in our companies’installing siding and windows, sales, fire restoration, construction, air duct cleaning to one of my present companies today which carries corporate licensing. 
Here are three examples of occupations that require licensing in the state of Oklahoma. 
#1. Make-Up Demonstrator 
The young lady at the Clinique Counter at the mall needs a license to apply samples of make-up. She used to be able to apply for her license on line, but that has been changed. She now has to apply for her license at the Cosmetology Board at 23rd and Penn at Shepherd Mall. This is the only place to apply. 
The make-up demonstrator cannot fill out the paperwork online or make a payment on line, or even make a payment over the phone. This is a step backwards. Wrong direction. 
So, if a young lady gets a job at the make-up counter on Friday and is asked to start work on Monday with her license in hand, and she lives in Guymon, nearly 5 hours away, she must make a 10 hour round trip to obtain her license to start her 12 dollar an hour job on Monday.
And what does the state give the make-up demonstrator in exchange for the license? The worker receives no training and no education on health and safety. 

So — When a make-up demonstrator pays for a license, what’s in it for the worker? What’s in it for the consumer?
#2. Sports Announcer
Each year a sports announcer in the state of Oklahoma must renew their license. What does the state give the sports announcer in exchange for that license? No training and no education. 
So — When a sports announcer pays for a license, what’s in it for the worker? What’s in it for the consumer?
#3. Bunk Bed Salesman
Want to sell bunk beds in the state of Oklahoma? You better have a license. And what does the bunk bed salesman receive in exchange from the state? No training and no education on health and safety, and no instructions on how to get in and out of a bunk bed. 
These workers only get one thing out of these licenses………a receipt. We should not require licensing unless we can prove that licensing makes workers fundamentally better.
I find it hard to believe that Oklahoma has superior
    • Make-Up Demonstrators
    • Sports Announcers
    • Bunk Bed Salesmen
Because Oklahoma requires a license….
The public assumes that a license automatically reflects education, public safety and/or consumer protection. That is a false assumption.
Frivolous licensing is a barrier for people to get jobs, and a barrier for people to raise themselves out of poverty.
I recommend adopting the following 3 guidelines to scrutinize every occupational license in Oklahoma as presented by the Reason Foundation in a February 2016 report:
1. Are there well-documented and consistent complaints from and harm to, consumers from unlicensed providers?
2. Is there a less restrictive option than licensing that would rein in bad practices?
3. Are there other states that don’t license this occupation and yet don’t have consumer problems?
For those occupations that we deem necessary for licensing, we MUST streamline the process into the Twenty-First Century
Former Labor Commissioner Mark Costello was promoting the one-stop-shop for occupational and business licensing in 2010 – seven years ago. 
For example, a family wants to open a restaurant. They must obtain multiple licenses: 
Business License
Food Service License
Liquor License
Food Handler’s Permit 
Some Businesses require as many as seven licenses. Labor Commissioner Costello was studying best practices in other states like Florida and was already streamlining licensing on-line rather than a brick and mortar location.
A business or occupation should be able to use modern technology, go to one place on the internet, fill out paper work one time, pay the fee and have technology farm those applications out to the different departments or agencies. Let’s lift the burden on the employer and the worker with common sense efficiency. 
The Department of Labor, working in conjunction with the legislature, has a tremendous opportunity to ease the burden on employers and employees alike. Again, I want to praise Commissioner Houston and this Task Force for working on a problem that has, for too long, needed a solution.

NOTE: Costello is seeking the Republican nomination for Commissioner of Labor.