by Cathy Costello

The burden of excessive occupational licensing in Oklahoma is unfair to both workers and employees. In the 1950’s, only 1 in 20 workers in the United States was required to obtain licensure. Today, that number is nearly one in three.

A 2015 White House study on Occupational licensing found that “Overall, the empirical research does not find large improvements in quality, or health and safety from more stringent licensing. In fact, in only two out of 12 studies, was greater licensing associated with quality improvements.”

Most Oklahomans assume an occupational license reflects a certain level of training, education and consumer protection.  In many cases, that is accurate. However, in too many cases, it is not.

The young ladies at the make-up counter at the mall need a license to sell lipstick and other beauty products. The make-up demonstrator cannot fill out the paperwork online, or make a payment online, or even make a payment over the phone.  So, if a young lady gets a job at the make-up counter on Friday and is asked to start work on Monday with her license in hand, and she lives in Guymon, she must make a 10-hour round trip to the Cosmetology Board on 23rd and Penn to obtain her license to work.

What does the state give the make-up demonstrator in exchange for the license?  Nothing – no training and no education on health and safety. The license is nothing more than a means to generate revenue for the state.

Occupational licenses should exist only to reflect a level of training, education and consumer protection. For certain workers, such as nurses and electricians, occupational licensing is necessary and justified. For other workers such as sports announcers and bunk bed salesmen, occupational licensing is nothing more than a labor tax, and diminishes the credibility of occupations based on legitimate education and training.

Licenses should not be required unless we can prove that licensing makes workers fundamentally better. Frivolous licensing is a barrier for people to find jobs, and a barrier for people to raise themselves out of poverty.

As Labor Commissioner, I will recommend adopting the following 3 guidelines to scrutinize every occupational license in Oklahoma as recommended by the Reason Foundation in a February 2016 report:

1. Are there well-documented and consistent complaints from and harm to, consumers from unlicensed providers?

2. Is there a less restrictive option than licensing that would rein in bad practices?

3. Are there other states that don’t license this occupation and yet don’t have consumer problems?

For those occupations we deem necessary for licensing, we must streamline the process into the 21st Century. Requiring a license is already a burden on private sector workers and small businesses so making the acquisition of those licenses cumbersome or difficult is inexcusable.

Businesses and employees should be able to use modern technology, go to one place on the internet, fill out paperwork once, and have access to technology that farms their applications to the designated department or agency.  Let’s lift the burden on the employer and the worker with common sense efficiency.

As your next Oklahoma State Labor Commissioner, I will remove superfluous obstacles to employment.  I will work in conjunction with the legislature to ease the burden on employers and employees alike by eliminating unnecessary occupational licensing in conjunction with SB 1475, the ‘Occupational Licensing Review Act.’

As your Labor Commissioner I will encourage economic opportunity and work – not busywork.