A license to kill business


From a historic building on the banks of the Etowah River in Rome, Ga., Ed Watters and his co-workers design elaborate gardens and manage a successful landscape company with a staff of more than 60. Behind the serene décor of the Outdoor Living Studio, however, lurk onerous regulatory hoops that the company must jump through to do business.

One of those hurdles is licensing. The Institute for Justice reports that Georgia is one of just 10 states that require landscape workers – known as landscape architects – to have an occupational license to work in Georgia. According to the Secretary of State’s website, applicants must pass both a national and state examination.

According to the Institute for Justice, Georgia is one of just two states that mandate two exams for landscape workers. The state exam is offered only in Tifton, Atlanta and Macon. Certified landscape workers must also have 12 hours of continuing education credits every two years.

Watters’ company also must have vegetation pesticide handler licenses for his landscape crew supervisors, which also requires two exams and is handled by the Georgia Agriculture Department. (All states license pesticide handlers.)

“The whole process gets very expensive, and it takes away from productivity,” says Watters, whose company pays for the certification and licenses. A $300 certification can cost the company up to $1,000. The employee is paid for the day of work he misses, and there are travel expenses to the license/testing site plus hotel expenses.

To Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s credit, his office is working on streamlining the process. More occupational license applications and renewals can be accessed online. He has also proposed streamlining the administrative process to expedite licensing.

Still, when it comes to occupational licensing, Georgia has the 18th most burdensome requirements in the nation, according to a new report by the Institute for Justice.

The report, “License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing,” found that Georgia requires licenses for 33 out of the 102 moderate-income occupations the institute studied nationwide. On average, the licensing costs Georgians $167 in fees and 324 days in training and require them to pass two exams.

The licensing fees range from $15 for a weigher to $700 for an auctioneer. The occupations include taxidermists, taxi drivers and truck drivers, barbers and bus drivers, athletic trainers, animal control officers and emergency medical technicians, earth drillers, milk samplers and mobile home installers.

In ranking the states, the Institute for Justice considered how many occupations are licensed and how onerous the requirements are. Georgia ranks 18th most burdensome but 37th when the extent and burden of the licensing requirements are considered. Louisiana required the most licenses – 71 – but Hawaii had the highest hurdles.

In the 1950s, only one in 20 people needed a license to work, according to the Institute. Today, it’s one in three. These licensing requirements raise costs for consumers, because companies and business owners must incorporate them in what they charge. They limit opportunities for low- and moderate-income workers because of lengthy – and costly – training requirements that, viewed across the nation, show little rhyme or reason.

For example, licensed manicurists in Georgia require 123 days of training, while in Iowa they need nine days and in Alaska, three days.

To obtain a license in Georgia, an HVAC contractor requires more than four years of experience compared to a national average of about two-and-a-half years.

A veterinary technician must have more than two years of education, yet the EMT who has his life in your hands requires 31 days of education and experience, according to the report.

Thirty-eight other states don’t require occupational licenses for taxi drivers and 33 require no license for animal control officers.

Do Georgia’s tougher requirements produce better workers? Are consumers less safe in states with fewer or no requirements, such as Alaska’s three days of training for manicurists?

At the end of the day, Georgia’s companies wrap the costs of burdensome training and licensing into the customer’s bill. And low- and moderate-income workers must jump hurdles to qualify for jobs that they could stroll into in other states.

In an economic climate where job creation is crucial, perhaps it’s time for legislators to go from streamlining to sunsetting.

Still wondering what’s a weigher? That would be “a person who shall weigh, measure or record the indications or readings of weighing or measuring and declare the weight, measure, reading or recording to be in true weight, measure, reading or recording of any commodity, article or product.”

[Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (www.georgiapolicy.org), an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.]