Occupational licensing, an issue overdue for review



It’s bad enough that almost half a million Georgians – about 1 in 10 of us with a job – need the government’s permission to work in their chosen field. But it gets worse.


Georgia Public Policy Foundation

That permission comes, in many cases, only after a person studies or trains for weeks, months, even years. Then there are the fees, which can run into the hundreds of dollars.

Then there’s the waiting.

After all that time and money, aspiring workers in Georgia can spend months waiting for their permission slip to receive the necessary stamp of approval – months in which they aren’t working like they should be, their families aren’t prospering as they would be, and their potential employers aren’t growing their businesses as they could be.

It all speaks to a long-outdated system of occupational licensing that isn’t serving Georgia well.

We may be getting some relief. The Georgians First Commission, which Gov. Brian Kemp created to make ours the No. 1 state for small business, has been reviewing ways to make the system more efficient with an eye toward proposing legislation in 2020.

“We’re looking at the antiquated stuff that gets in the way of small business,” the Commission’s executive director, Scott Hilton, said on September 18 at a luncheon at the Savannah Golf Club hosted by the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

“No one,” Hilton added, “has lifted up the rock and said, ‘Why do we do it this way?’”

The numbers tell the outline of this story. Some 489,000 Georgians need an occupational permission slip to work in 178 types of jobs governed by 41 licensing boards, Hilton said. And those are only the ones administered by the Secretary of State’s office; other professions maintain licensing regimes of their own. While the number of Georgians who work in a field requiring a government-issued license is relatively small compared to other states, the number of jobs licensed is relatively large.

But the personal struggles within those numbers flesh out the story. Hilton quoted one licensed worker as saying: “I expect my job to be difficult at times, but getting or keeping my license should be simple. It’s not.”

He also relayed the story of a man who had finished veterinary school, only to wait six months for the licensing board to: 1) meet, 2) have a quorum, and 3) grant the license.

Adding insult to injury, while licensed workers pay about $40 million each year in fees, only $8.9 million of that actually goes toward the licensing processes, said Gabriel Sterling, chief operating officer for the Secretary of State’s office. The rest goes toward the state’s general fund, effectively making it a tax on work rather than a fee for services received.

It remains to be seen exactly what the Commission will propose, but Hilton did point to some of the reasons other states rank more highly than Georgia. Colorado regularly reviews the necessity of its licensing boards. Utah sought to better inform licensed workers about what is required of them. Florida has significantly reduced the number of licenses the state requires, while Texas created a user-friendly website for licensees.

Georgia falls short on all of those scores.

Another problem is the inconsistency among licensing boards themselves, which are administered by the Secretary of State’s office but are generally filled by people from the private sector appointed by the governor. They could use more uniform expectations, responsibilities and oversight. Not to mention some fresh blood in some cases:

“We have some board members that are third-generation board members,” Sterling said.

The recent trend has been for the General Assembly to add new occupational licensing requirements, not take them away. Let’s hope this Commission’s work represents a turning of that tide.

[Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent, nonprofit think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.] © Georgia Public Policy Foundation (October 11, 2019).]