Do sunrise processes prevent the enactment of unnecessary occupational licenses? This study is primarily descriptive and thus not designed to determine which licenses are necessary or unnecessary. Indeed, which occupations should be licensed or otherwise regulated and how requires careful occupation-by-occupation analysis. And though licensing policy should be informed by evidence of the type strong sunrise processes are designed to produce, it will always be subject to differences of opinion about how best to balance public protection with open occupational entry.
An easier question is whether sunrise processes slow licensing’s growth. Though it seems obvious that a system designed to subject licensing proposals to independent scrutiny would lead to fewer licenses, the opposite could be true. Sunrise laws could, instead, formalize a path for occupations to seek and obtain licensure, leading to more licensing laws than would otherwise exist. Exploring that question would require a rigorous comparison of states with sunrise laws to those without, looking at all licenses proposed and enacted, not just those that underwent sunrise review—an undertaking beyond our scope, but worthy of future research.
Still, our data provide preliminary evidence that sunrise reviews influence legislatures and may have slowed licensing’s growth by helping prevent—or at least delay—the enactment of new licenses. First, as Figure 14 shows, legislatures are far less likely to enact requested new licenses when sunrise reviews disfavor them as compared to when they endorse them (36% vs. 73%). This suggests legislatures do, to some degree, rely on sunrise recommendations to decide which occupations should be licensed—and often heed their warnings against regulation. Alternatively, perhaps legislatures generally reach similar conclusions to sunrise reviewers but are more inclined to favor licensure—or more sensitive to industry pressure.
Figure 14: Legislatures Were Twice as Likely to Enact New Licenses When Sunrise Reviews Recommended Them
Note: Analysis considers outcomes of 315 reviews with requests for new licenses.
Second, whether sunrise reviews were for or against licensure appears to factor into how long it takes legislatures to enact licenses (see Figure 15). When legislatures ignored recommendations against licensure, they seldom did so until long after an initial review— nearly eight years later on average. By contrast, when reviews recommended licenses, legislatures usually enacted them quickly, within about two years. With a recommendation for licensure, the longest it took a legislature to enact a license following a single review was five years (South Carolina nuclear medicine technologists and radiation therapists). With a recommendation against licensure, the longest it took was 21 years (Colorado speech language pathologists and Virginia home inspectors).
Moreover, following a sunrise recommendation against licensure, it usually took multiple reviews before a legislature gave in to requests for licensure. In one example, Colorado landscape architects requested licensure four times between 1989 and 2005, each time receiving a recommendation of no new regulation. The lobby finally achieved licensure in 2007, 18 years after its initial request. Similarly, and also in Colorado, it took three reviews—all with recommendations against licensure—and 14 years before the General Assembly opted to license mortgage brokers.
And, as noted above, while legislatures enacted 84 licenses following sunrise studies that recommended something less restrictive, including no new regulation, or that made no recommendation, they also declined to enact 189. Put differently, when reviews did not recommend licensing, legislatures usually followed their lead—in 65% of cases.
Figure 15: Average Time It Took Legislatures to Enact New Licenses
Note: Analysis considers 105 occupations for which new licenses were requested and enacted.
Figure 16 provides further evidence sunrise reviews influence legislatures. It traces each specific recommendation in our dataset to its legislative outcome. Unlike Figure 14, it looks at all reviews regardless of request, not just those with requests for new licenses. It shows that when sunrise reviews found no need to regulate at all, more often than not, legislatures agreed: About 57% of recommendations for no new regulation resulted in outcomes of no new regulation of personal qualifications, while roughly a third resulted in new or distinct licenses. Looked at from the perspective of where outcomes came from, about two-thirds of all outcomes of no new regulation stemmed from reviews recommending that legislatures enact no new regulation or maintain or amend an existing license.
Figure 16: How Sunrise Recommendations Translated to Legislative Outcomes
Note: Recommendations of no new regulation mean just that; outcomes of no new regulation mean no new regulation of personal qualifications. The legislature may have enacted other regulations, such as business regulations.
Legislatures are even more likely to heed recommendations for licensure: When reviews recommended new or distinct licenses, legislatures enacted licensure almost 70% of the time. It could be that licensure recommendations have a rubberstamp effect because legislatures are already inclined toward regulation. That said, following about a quarter of licensure recommendations, legislatures enacted no new regulation. (The rest of the time, they opted for less restrictive regulations.)
Although it suggests sunrise reviews influence legislatures, Figure 16 also highlights how legislatures are not beholden to them. Looking at licensure outcomes, the data show they stemmed from all types of recommendations, not just, or even primarily, ones for licensure. In fact, the plurality of licensure outcomes— 41.5%—came from reviews that recommended no new regulation at all. Only a third followed recommen dations for new or distinct licenses. About a quarter followed recommendations for less restrictive regulations or reviews that failed to make any recommendation. Included among those are 14 distinct licenses legislatures created following recommendations to maintain or amend an existing license. Less commonly, legislatures exercised their prerogative to enact less restrictive regulations than recommended. For example, they enacted no new regulation following 10% of licensure recommendations. All told, licenses were enacted about twice as often as recommended.
Though our findings are suggestive, our dataset comprises only 15 states. Some of those states have produced very few reports, and a few no longer regularly produce reports at all. Moreover, many factors likely influence both sunrise recommendations and legislative outcomes. To name just a few, the precise text of sunrise statutes, political factors particular to states and the strength of local occupational lobbies, and report quality may all impact whether sunrise processes work to check licensing’s growth. And in turn, report quality is almost certainly influenced by reviewer structure, independence, resources and culture. Unfortunately, with such a small sample of states, it is hard to draw firm conclusions about how these factors may influence sunrise effectiveness.