Stop Occupational Badgering

Wisconsin’s occupational licensing laws need reform

After Thanksgiving is over, when you’re out looking at fresh, pine-scented Christmas trees for your home, what are some questions you might ask before buying one?

Chances are, “Do you have a license to grow that Christmas tree,” is not going to make the list. But if you’re buying that tree in Wisconsin, state law requires that the people selling it to you have a license from the government in order to cut them down, wrap them up, and help you secure them to your vehicle.

As insane as that might sound, the “Christmas tree license” is unfortunately by no means the end of Wisconsin’s obsession with occupational licensing. A recent report from Milwaukee’s local NBC affiliate listed nine other “jobs you might be surprised require a license.” These include: private security guards, butter and cheese graters, barbers and cosmetology workers, bartenders, car salesmen, manicurists, skin care specialists, ginseng growers and sports agents.

According to the Institute for Justice’s (IJ) “License to Work” report, Wisconsin is the 28th most broadly and onerously licensed state. As a particularly egregious example of how excessive these laws are, the Badger State requires barbers and cosmetologists to undergo more than a year of expensive training. To put that in perspective, it takes 15 times the amount of training to cut hair for a living in Wisconsin than it does to become an emergency medical technician.

Fortunately, state lawmakers could soon cut some of this red tape. Senate Bill 108, which recently passed the Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations, would eliminate continuing education requirements for cosmetologists, barbers, aestheticians, manicurists and electrical hair removal specialists. The bill would also eliminate the current requirement that people licensed elsewhere have 4,000 hours of experience in licensed practice before receiving a reciprocal license in Wisconsin. Similarly, SB 108 would change the license renewal requirements from requiring 4,000 hours of licensed practice to informing licensed practitioners of any changes to cosmetology statues and renewing their licenses upon completion of a one-hour course on those rules.

SB 108 clearly moves Wisconsin in the right direction, but it could and should go much further. Policymakers should ask why somebody should need a special license from the government to sell Christmas trees, paint nails, mix cocktails or grate cheese—or, more broadly, if licensing is the appropriate regulatory scheme. Many states have moved to roll back licensing requirements on a broad array of occupations, and leaders in Madison can work to relieve more of the onerous regulation that burdens hardworking Wisconsin families.

The ability to earn an honest living without jumping through needless government hoops is foundational to a healthy economy.

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