January 27, 2020

Greg Mills is an engineer. He has spent more than 30 years designing and building electrical circuits for everything from flashlights to satellites and has worked for companies like General Dynamics and Spectrum Astro. Greg became an entrepreneur when he opened his own small business—Southwest Engineering Concepts—to help other entrepreneurs and small businesses. He provides safe, affordable, high-quality engineering services by designing, analyzing, testing, and building electrical circuits to turn his clients’ ideas for new products into prototype realities.

Greg’s business was booming until he received a letter from the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. The Board informed Greg that he needed a license from the state to continue in his life-long occupation—or even to continue calling himself an engineer. Greg was stunned. He had worked as an electrical engineer for decades, and nothing he designs requires a licensed engineer’s approval to build. Even so, the Board threatened Greg with $6,000 in fines and potential criminal liability, demanding that he shut down his business or obtain an engineering license.

To protect public health and safety, building codes require plans for construction projects to be approved (“signed and stamped”) by licensed design professionals before they can be built. However, most engineers, like Greg, work in industries that don’t require them to have a license to do their jobs; indeed, about 80% of engineers work without a license. Moreover, most states, including Arizona, allow engineers to work for a manufacturer without a license or licensed supervision. But now that Greg is in business for himself, doing the same work that he was allowed to do at General Dynamics, the Board wants to shut him down.

Beyond the obvious problems with what the Board is doing to Greg, there are also serious problems with how they are doing it. Greg’s case is a perfect example of the problems with modern administrative agencies. The Board makes its own rules, enforces those rules, and then judges violations of those rules, leaving Greg without any meaningful way to assert his rights. 

That is why he teamed up with IJ to fight back. The Arizona Constitution protects Greg’s right to truthfully call himself an engineer and provides even stronger protection than the federal Constitution for his right to earn an honest living. A law that permits 80% of engineers to work without a license but singles out Greg for doing the exact same work violates those protections. The Arizona Constitution also protects individual rights by strictly separating government powers. That means the Board cannot restrict speech and economic liberty, or impose fines, without a meaningful check by the judicial branch.

By winning Greg’s case, IJ will vindicate the Arizona Constitution’s greater protections for free speech and economic liberty. In doing so, we will protect the liberties of all Arizonans from an overzealous and overreaching administrative board.

Adam Griffin is an IJ constitutional law fellow.

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