Washington has separate but similar sunrise processes for health and non-health occupations. The state’s sunrise laws require some of the most detailed inquiries into proposed regulations’ costs and least restrictive regulations of any state. Moreover, both processes are guided by policy statements that expressly acknowledge the importance of balancing public safety with open occupational entry.
Both of Washington’s sunrise statutes state that “[t]he legislature believes that all individuals should be permitted to enter into [an occupation] unless there is an overwhelming need for the state to protect the interests of the public by restricting entry into the [occupation].” In line with this policy, Washington law permits regulation only when three criteria are met: (1) “[u]nregulated practice can clearly harm or endanger the health, safety, or welfare of the public, and the potential for the harm is easily recognizable and not remote or dependent upon tenuous argument,” which is a moderate standard; (2) “[t]he public needs and can reasonably be expected to benefit from an assurance of initial and continuing professional ability”; and (3) “[t]he public cannot be effectively protected by other means in a more cost-beneficial manner.”
Washington enacted its sunrise processes for health and non-health occupations in 1983 and 1987, respectively. For both types of occupations, sunrise review is triggered by the introduction of regulatory legislation. 2
In practice, the Legislature has also frequently initiated reviews by requesting a general review into whether regulation of an occupation is needed. Although the law does not require regulation proponents to file an application to initiate the sunrise process, the state’s reports indicate that industry insiders were behind most (61%) of the bills.
After a bill is introduced proposing new regulation of an occupation, the bill is referred to the relevant legislative committee. The committee can conduct its own reviews or else refer health bills to the Department of Health and non-health bills to the Department of Licensing, both executive agencies, for review and recommendation.
Reviews of both types of occupations must include evaluations of harm from an occupation; previous or ongoing efforts to address the identified harm; and proposed regulations’ costs to workers, consumers and the state as well as its possible benefits. Reviews may also consider whether proposed regulations are narrowly targeted to address the identified harm. Reviews are not, however, required to recommend the least restrictive regulation that would protect the public. The law sets no time limit for reviews.
After a department submits its written report to the Legislature, the Legislature deliberates. Washington’s sunrise law encourages the Legislature, if it determines regulation is necessary, to enact the least restrictive regulation. To this end, the law provides a menu of regulatory options, ranging from least restrictive, strengthened civil remedies and criminal penalties, to most restrictive, licensing.
Both Washington’s health and non-health reports in our dataset are highly rigorous, consistently using independent research and analysis to understand occupations and the need, or lack thereof, for regulation.
Licensure and General Reviews Were Frequently Sought—and Licensure Was Frequently Enacted Despite Few Licensure Recommendations
Summary of Washington’s Sunrise Reviews, 1988–2016
Notes: A distinct license is a separate license for an occupation already licensed under another, usually broader, occupational category. A general review is an open-ended inquiry into whether and how an occupation should be regulated. A recommendation of no new regulation means just that; a recommendation to maintain or amend license refers to a recommendation to reject new regulations (such as a distinct license) in favor of keeping an existing license, with or without amendments. A legislative outcome of no new regulation means no new regulation of personal qualifications; the legislature may have enacted other regulations. An outcome of broader credential means the legislature opted to sweep the occupation into a broader licensure, certification or registration scheme. Where a state reviewed an occupation more than once, we are counting only the legislative outcome as of 2018.
Occupations Licensed Without Supporting Recommendations
Mental Health Practitioners
Physical Therapist Assistants *
Real Estate Appraisers
Speech Language Pathologists
Speech Language Pathology Assistants*
*Multiple recommendations against licensure.
Sign up to receive IJ's biweekly digital magazine, Liberty & Law, along with breaking updates about our fight to protect the rights of all Americans.