J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · March 7, 2018

Yesterday, the New Hampshire House of Representatives approved HB 1685, a bill that would overhaul the state’s burdensome and arbitrary licenses.  Occupational licensing is now one of the biggest barriers to finding work, with almost 1 in 5 workers in New Hampshire either licensed or certified. According to a report by the Institute for Justice, the average license to work for lower-income occupations in the Granite State requires paying $183 in fees, completing 273 days of education and experience, and passing two exams.

“Far too many workers are spending their time earning a license when they should be earning a living,” said Lee McGrath, senior legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice.

Sponsored by Rep. Bill Ohm and endorsed by Gov. Chris Sununu, the bill would create an “Occupational Regulation Review Commission” to evaluate both proposed and existing regulations. The Commission’s analysis would use a two-step process. First, there actually has to be “credible empirical evidence of a systematic problem” that warrants government intervention. Second, if such a problem exists, the regulation must be the “least restrictive” form that imposes the lowest burdens and costs while still protecting consumers from harm.

In addition, the bill would institute a rigorous “sunset review” process. Every year, the Commission would examine one-fifth of the state’s occupational regulations to identify any rules or laws that should be repealed or modified so that they are the least restrictive.

“Regulation does not have to be a binary between licensing and no licensing,” McGrath explained. “A least restrictive framework grants policymakers a wider array of regulatory options including private certification, inspections, bonding, and registration. Occupational licensing should only be a policy of last resort.”

HB 1685 also contains an important criminal-justice reform that would make it easier for people with criminal records to find work. The bill would ban boards from denying licenses to an ex-offender unless they show that granting the license would jeopardize public safety. Licensing boards would track and report the number of approved and denied petitions, and the offenses associated with the petitions. In 2016, over 626,000 people were released from state and federal prison, with over 1,600 prisoners released in New Hampshire.

“An honest living is one of the best ways to prevent re-offending,” McGrath noted. “But strict occupational licensing requirements make it harder for ex-offenders to find work.”

HB 1685 would build on previous deregulation. Last year, New Hampshire became the 23rd state to free African-style natural hair braiders from licensing. Previously, a braider could only legally work if she first became a licensed cosmetologist, which takes at least 1,500 hours of training and can cost nearly $20,000.