Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · June 16, 2022

CHICAGO—Two newly signed laws will focus Illinois state government on breaking down occupational licensing barriers that keep low- and middle-income people from finding jobs or starting their own businesses. HB 5575, the Comprehensive Licensing Information to Minimize Barriers (CLIMB) Task Force Act, and HB 5576, which amended the Regulatory Sunset Act, were passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Illinois General Assembly and signed by the governor. The Institute for Justice (IJ) Clinic on Entrepreneurship and the Small Business Advocacy Council crafted the two bills with lawmakers and look forward to working with the task force to increase opportunities for Illinoisians.

“We are so proud we could help Illinois take this important step,” said IJ Clinic Director Beth Kregor. “By committing to the CLIMB Initiative, Illinois commits to examining licensing requirements carefully. Especially now, when so many people are looking for a new start after the pandemic, we need to clear away the rules and procedures that are outdated or exclusionary.”

Licensing requirements disproportionately exclude people facing economic challenges from certain occupations. The high cost of education, the complexity of filling out an application, and barriers to people with criminal records make acquiring a license especially difficult for many people in historically marginalized groups. The CLIMB Task Force, which will include representatives from licensed occupations, will publish a report with recommendations to the General Assembly about increasing equity and economic opportunity.

Cosmetology is an example of a common occupation that the Task Force will investigate. An IJ study released last year catalogs the financial burdens that Illinois cosmetologists must take on to comply with state licensing requirements. The average cost to attend beauty school in Illinois is $17,658, among the highest in the nation. Students borrow an average of $7,705 in federal student loans to attend school, but fewer than one-third graduate on time and only a little over half graduate within two years. For those who graduate and become licensed cosmetologists, the median annual wage is low: $27,040.

Legacy Barber College, located in Chicago, enrolls former inmates and at-risk youth in its barber program. Owner Juan Rivera, who spent time in prison after being falsely accused, spoke to legislators as they were considering the bill and supports reducing licensing barriers.

“We founded Legacy to make it easier and more affordable for people to start a new life as a barber,” said Juan. “I’m thrilled that Illinois will take a hard look at the requirements for barbers (like 1,500 hours of training) to determine whether we can make barbering more accessible to more people.”

The amendments to the Regulatory Sunset Act strengthen the state’s existing process to review licenses. The reporting process will now collect additional information and consider whether existing barriers are truly addressing public safety. The sunset reports may offer recommendations for alternatives to licensing such as registration or certification.