Pare Back Broad “Scopes of Practice”

In addition to considering whether occupations should be licensed, and, if so, how burdensomely, policymakers should pay close attention to “scope of practice.” Scope of practice refers to the legally defined duties of any licensed occupation, from doctors and dentists to barbers and cosmetologists.

When a license’s scope of practice is overly broad, the listed duties may overlap with those of other occupations not explicitly covered by the license. In such cases, licensing boards may, in a phenomenon known as “license creep,” interpret rules and regulations as applying to those other occupations and use their powers to shut workers in those other occupations out of work or force them to become licensed. As detailed in Reform Spotlight: Barbering and Beauty Licensing, many examples of license creep come from the beauty industry, but the phenomenon is by no means unique to it. License creep can be found in various other industries, such as veterinary medicine, 1  dentistry, 2 and funeral goods and services. 3

The easiest way to beat back license creep is for policymakers to revise and clarify overly broad scopes of practice. They should carefully tailor occupational definitions to explicitly exempt distinct occupations for which licensing is unnecessary, such as Idaho did when it exempted African-style hair braiders from cosmetology licensure. 4  They can also revise occupational definitions to explicitly permit lower-cost practitioners to provide services they are trained for, such as allowing registered nurses to prescribe some medicines and paralegals to prepare standard legal documents. 5

Policymakers can also beat back license creep by repealing regulations that allow licensed occupations to monopolize harmless practices or stifle innovation. For example, Oklahoma allows only licensed funeral directors to sell caskets even though there is no health and safety rationale for such a restriction. 6  And in the eye care industry, licensing laws have been used to ban online eye exams. 7