Guest Columnist

Quit flooding Iowa workers with licensing fees

This photo shows a view of the Iowa Capitol Building, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neib
This photo shows a view of the Iowa Capitol Building, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Last year, flooding across Iowa caused over $2 billion in damage. In the aftermath, the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have poured resources into the state to help people bounce back.

While these efforts have helped, the state Legislature needs to provide additional relief. Namely, Iowa should pass legislation to reduce or eliminate occupational licensing fees and other requirements for those affected by natural disasters.

The aid federal agencies have lent is mainly geared toward assisting the agriculture industry, which has been hammered by 145,000 acres of flooded farmland. Though these actions will help countless farmers, leaders aren’t doing all they can to help them get back on their feet. For those farmers who need to find other jobs in the interim, or who have to switch careers altogether, a major barrier stands in their way: occupational licensing.

Occupational licenses are government-issued licenses that are required to perform certain jobs. Currently, Iowa has 104 licensed job types. These range from nurses and teachers to milk haulers and barbers. A study by the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit that assesses licensing laws, found that out of 102 low income occupations, 71 of them require licenses in Iowa.

To obtain these licenses, workers need to pay fees and undergo hours of training. On average, licensees pay $178 in fees, spend 288 days on training, and must take an exam. The highest that Iowans can pay for some licenses is $1200 in fees, and they may have to clock upward of 2100 hours in training.

In 2019, legislators introduced HB 752 and HB 666 that, if passed, would assess which occupational licenses should be eliminated. Sadly, these efforts would not be enough to alleviate the burden that these fees impose.

Farmers whose livelihoods have been damaged beyond repair should be able to turn to new vocations. But to those affected by natural disasters, the process of obtaining a license adds unnecessary burdens. Fortunately, there’s a solution: The Legislature can follow other states that have adopted reforms to eliminate licensing fees for those affected by natural disasters.

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Overregulation and exorbitant fees associated with occupational licensing inhibit people’s abilities to get work. If regulations were relaxed, victims of floods can get back to work and provide for themselves and their families quicker. This would also prevent victims from needing government assistance, since they would have an easier time finding new occupations. In turn, this would reduce the burden for all taxpayers.

Iowans affected by flooding aren’t just statistics; they are neighbors, teachers and business owners. Mark Twain once wrote that a “good exercise for the heart is reaching out and helping your neighbor.” With the Legislature back in session, it is time to heed Twain’s call. If Iowans want a solution that assists their neighbors, helps local communities rebuild, and helps the state economy grow, this is the right first step.

Anthony Lamorena is a government affairs associate at the R Street Institute in Washington, D.C.

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