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Hey, do you have a license for that?

November 4, 2007
The Altoona Mirror

By Stephen Black,

Pennsylvania Builders Association President

If you’re getting a haircut, Pennsylvania has you covered. Likewise, when you need an auctioneer or a landscape architect, you’re protected.

At least you’re safe if you think a state-issued license protects you.

State legislators have proposed laws to license tanning salons, plumbers, private detectives, home inspectors and interior designers. Is there any protection? Or, is the government creating cartels that limit competition and provide a false sense of security?

Consumer advocates regularly point out that home improvement contractors, like other construction jobs, are not licensed in our state. They argue that barbers are licensed, but not home improvement contractors. Instead of using this logic to add licenses, let’s consider the need for licenses. Does the public benefit when people get haircuts from a licensed barber?

In construction, the faulty logic of licensing is obvious. If the state required home repairs to conform to the Uniform Construction Code, consumers would benefit. It doesn’t, and homeowner safety declines. In contrast, licensing plumbers fails to set a standard for their work.

Instead of wasting money with new licenses, state government should evaluate how the public benefits from its current array of licenses. Otherwise, any new licensing programs might very well exist solely as a revenue source for government, providing no legitimate consumer-protection service.

The Reason Foundation recently investigated state policies for licensed jobs. The study shows arbitrary differences among states. Few agree on which jobs to regulate, and even fewer on how to regulate them. Pennsylvania residents appear to get along without licensing fortune tellers, beekeepers, chimney sweeps and florists. Other states function without spending so much time regulating cemeteries and campgrounds, as we do here.

Few people would argue against licensing medical professionals, for which the state issues 20 different licenses in fields such as midwifery, acupuncture and athletic training.

But do we need five sets of licensing credentials for barbers? Do you sleep better at night because geologists are licensed? Should the government decide whether a dietician is qualified?

The medical field pales in comparison with real estate, where 23 licenses are available. Six of these license cemetery owners and employees. Lawmakers must have wanted to watch the death business closely: State law requires licenses for 11 occupations related to funeral homes.

The Pennsylvania Builders Association would simply like to know how the public benefits from existing and proposed occupational licenses. Let’s consider why we need regulators overseeing six types of auctioneer licenses before we send agents after the interior designers based on consumer complaints of “hideous” paint schemes.

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