Occupational Licensing in Texas

What is Occupational Licensing?

An occupational or professional license is a permit issued by the government that lets someone work in a particular field. In Texas, almost one out of five workers must now get an occupational license before they can legally do their jobs. But many licenses don’t even improve service quality or protect the public from actual harm.  

Licenses Create Barriers to Working in Texas

Occupational licenses often impose high barriers to entry. That makes it much harder for people to find work or to start a new business. According to the Institute for Justice’s report, License to Work, the average license for low- and moderate-income jobs in Texas takes 329 days of education and experience. And those required classes can be very expensive.  

For instance, cosmetology is one of the state’s most popular licenses. In Texas, it takes at least 1,000 hours of classes to get a license in cosmetology. On average, a cosmetology program in the state costs $15,274, while the average student takes out $7,817 in federal student loans. But despite such a hefty investment, many cosmetologists barely earn enough to get by: Half of cosmetologists make less than $22,240 a year. 

All told, the state’s licensing requirements come with heavy costs. A separate study by IJ, At What Cost?, estimated that occupational licensing in Texas costs the state’s economy $12.76 billion and leads to 143,000 fewer jobs each year. 

Licensing Lawsuits by the Institute for Justice in Texas 

To better foster economic liberty, the Institute for Justice has filed multiple lawsuits against strict occupational licensing laws in Texas. IJ won a federal court victory for Isis Brantley, a nationally recognized African hair braiding instructor, who was told by state regulators to turn her braiding school into a barber college. Thanks to IJ’s lawsuit, Texas completely deregulated natural hair braiding. 

On behalf of Vickee Byrum, IJ successfully challenged a Texas law that banned interior designers from calling themselves “interior designers,” unless they had a government-issued license. IJ also represented horse teeth floaters who were banned from caring for their horses’ teeth without a license in veterinary medicine, a license that could cost up to $100,000 in tuition and four years’ worth of classes.  

In 2015, IJ secured a landmark ruling by the Texas Supreme Court defending the right to earn an honest living. The case, Patel v. Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation, struck down a requirement that forced eyebrow threaders to complete 750 hours of classes at private beauty schools, even though those schools weren’t actually required to teach how to thread eyebrows. That requirement was “not just unreasonable or harsh, but it is so oppressive” that it violated the Texas Constitution, the Texas Supreme Court declared.  

Most recently, IJ is representing Dr. Ron Hines, a Texas-licensed veterinarian who gave online advice (mostly for free) to pet owners from around the world. But Texas bans veterinarians from offering advice online without first physically examining the animal, a law that clearly violates Dr. Ron’s First Amendment right to free speech.  

Can You Get a License to Work with a Criminal Record in Texas? 

Texas licensing boards can only deny licenses if someone has been convicted of a crime that “directly relates” to the license, excluding sexual or violent crimes, according to IJ’s Barred from Working report. Although Texas does ban boards from using arrest records to disqualify applicants, licenses can still be denied based on vague standards like “moral turpitude” or “good character.”  

Texas also has a predetermination petition process that lets ex-offenders see if their criminal record would prevent them from becoming licensed, before they begin any required training or courses. However, the state’s protections do not apply to people with criminal records who apply for a license in education, finance, public health, or private security. Overall, Texas earned a C+ for its protections.  

Recent Licensing Reforms in Texas 

Prompted by IJ lawsuits, Texas has eliminated licensing requirements for hair braiders and eyebrow threaders. In 2019, the state repealed a law that let boards suspend licenses for unpaid student loans.

How You Can Help

If you are an Texas resident and you want to help fight against these unfair and unnecessary licensing laws, there are a few ways you can get involved. You can donate to the Institute for Justice, sign up for our email updates, and share our message with your network. Together, we can make sure that all Texas workers have the economic liberty they deserve.

Texas Occupational Licensing In the News

Are Occupational Licenses Preventing You From Working in Texas ?

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Occupational Licensing Research

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

License to Work 3

This third edition of IJ’s landmark License to Work report finds that for lower-income Americans, licensing continues to be widespread, burdensome and—frequently—irrational. It also provides a blueprint for meaningful licensing reform.

Cosmetology | Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

Beauty School Debt and Drop-Outs

Cosmetology is one of the most widely and onerously regulated occupations for lower-income workers, yet little research has explored the experiences of aspiring beauty workers. This first-of-its-kind study takes advantage of federal educational…

Barred From Working

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

Barred From Working

Earning an honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending. But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for ex-offenders to find work, thwarting their chances of successful reentry.

Economic Liberty | Occupational Licensing

At What Cost?

Not only do state occupational licensing laws force people to spend a lot of time and money earning a license instead of earning a living, they also impose real economic costs. This study takes advantage…

Learn more about our Economic Liberty work.

Economic liberty—the right to earn a living in the occupation of your choice without unnecessary government interference—is at the heart of the American Dream. Unfortunately, all too many entrepreneurs find that this dream is under constant attack by unreasonable licensing, permitting and other requirements that stand in the way of honest competition.

Learn More

Reforming Occupational Licensing Nationwide

All Americans deserve the opportunity to earn an honest living. Yet occupational licenses, which are essentially permission slips from the government, routinely stand in the way of honest enterprise. Since our founding, IJ has fought to roll back oppressive occupational-licensing rules in more than two dozen distinct occupations, ranging all the way from tax preparers to florists to traditional African hair braiders. Learn more about IJ’s occupational-licensing work in all 50 states:

Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana | Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky |Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | Washington, D.C. | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming