Business

Occupational licensing reform a distinct possibility in 2020 Iowa Legislature

Business group leader predicts 'comprehensive' bill to review, change requirements for certain professions

The bars Iowans must clear to become licensed for certain occupations have come under heightened scrutiny at a time when the state has more job vacancies than candidates to fill them.

In question is not whether professions should be licensed. No one has contested the need for emergency medical technicians to undergo proper training, for example.

Whether barbers, cosmetologists and shampooers should train more than 19 times as many hours as EMTs is a different story.

The Institute for Justice, a libertarian not-for-profit based out of Arlington, Va., ranked Iowa low on the nation’s list of most burdensome licensing laws, at 37th, with averages of $178 in fees, 288 days spent on training and around one exam.

The Hawkeye State is further up the institute’s list of “most broadly and onerously” licensed states, at 12th, with licenses mandated for 71 of the 102 lower-income occupations it studies.

Among these, Iowa is one of just seven states to license travel agencies, and one of nine states to do so for dental assistants.

The state has 104 licensed job types, according to Iowa Workforce Development.

More than one-quarter of U.S. workers now must be licensed — largely at the state level — to do their jobs, a percentage that’s risen fivefold since the 1950s, according to a 2015 White House study.

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“When designed and implemented carefully, licensing can offer important health and safety protections to consumers, as well as benefits to workers,” wrote officials with the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Economic Policy, the Council of Economic Advisers and the U.S. Department of Labor. “However, the current licensing regime in the United States also creates substantial costs, and often the requirements for obtaining a license are not in sync with the skills needed for the job.”

As Iowa director for the National Federation of Independent Business, Matt Everson has lobbied Iowa lawmakers on occupational licensing reform and other small business issues with relevance to thousands of in-state members.

With licensing likely on deck for discussion during the upcoming legislative session, Everson said he has hope Iowa’s legislators will pass a more comprehensive bill tackling multiple pillars of reform in one fell swoop.

The following interview has been condensed and edited for clarity and length.

Q: Tell me about the National Federation of Independent Business. What does the not-for-profit do in Iowa and across the U.S.?

A: We’re comprised of about 10,000 small business members in Iowa and about 300,000 small businesses across the country. We advocate at the (Iowa) Capitol, we advocate in D.C. and at every statehouse on small business issues.

We’re continually surveying our members to see what’s important to them. A lot of it is tax rates, regulations that stifle competition. That’s really where this occupational licensing stuff has come up. With the workforce shortage, it’s become a barrier to entry for people who want to work, who don’t have the time of money to train up on jobs.

Q: Can you outline the nature of your organization’s lobbying efforts in Iowa? In other words, who are you meeting and what are you hoping to accomplish?

A: We meet with everybody. We’re a very active association, and our members are active in meeting with anybody and everybody who wants to hear about our issues. We’ve started pounding the drums last year on this (occupational licensing) issue, and I think it’s going to be a hot topic for the session coming up.

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(Reform) will make Iowa more competitive, potentially bring a lot of people to Iowa and, quite frankly, get people to work who want to work in certain industries without a bunch of barriers and costs. There’s no reason it shouldn’t be a bipartisan issue here. It should be a “what’s good for Iowa” issue.

Q: What did state lawmakers propose this year in terms of legislation to address occupational licensing concerns?

A: There was a good bill (House File 752) that would have reviewed current licenses in Iowa, all of them on a rotating basis, to basically say, “Here are the licenses we have, do they make sense in 2019, 2020, 2021, whenever they’re reviewed, and can we make changes that make it easier in the current work climate?” Just simple things that most people do when reviewing other programs within the government — do they make sense in the modern world?

Q: What do you foresee in terms of new bills in 2020, and what difference could they make?

A: I think this year, a bill will be a little more comprehensive. I think it’ll have some of those review guidelines. Reviewing things on a cyclical basis, the strong licenses will survive and the others will not.

Also, what we’ve seen in Arizona, where you’ve got people moving in that have these licenses in other states, it should be reciprocal to get them working right away. If someone gets transferred here (to Iowa), they’re a plumber and they have their license in New York and their life gets transferred here, we should be able to get them working right away. Another element that’s going to be important is, whether it’s minorities or folks in lower income levels, can we waive those fees? Those are the three pillars that we’re looking at and have seen in other states.

We’re competing for employees internally and externally, and we should want to review how we are compared to other states. I think reviewing (occupational licensing) and asking legitimate questions of our licensing boards is only good for our industries. We could be one of the first states to implement this (reform) and be an innovative state on this front.

Comments: (319) 398-8366; thomas.friestad@thegazette.com

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