Staff Columnist

Iowa must go big on licensing reform

Unnecessary requirements create barriers to work for too many people

The House Chambers is seen in March 2018 at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. (The Gazette)
The House Chambers is seen in March 2018 at the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines. (The Gazette)

Iowa needs more professionals in a wide range of sectors, but overbearing government regulations are hampering the state’s workforce growth.

Some Iowa school districts are struggling to attract applicants for teaching positions, which is partly attributable to Iowa’s teacher licensing rules, the Quad-City Times recently reported. Unlike some states, Iowa offers no reciprocity for licensed teachers in other states, which largely restricts recruiters to in-state prospects.

I hope next year’s legislative session will include thorough consideration of easing teacher licensing requirements and empowering school districts to more easily recruit from other states. But policymakers shouldn’t stop there — Iowa needs a broad and aggressive effort to diminish barriers to work.

Professional licensing reform has become a trendy bipartisan public policy topic in recent years. Several states have pursued significant overhauls, but Iowa has not.

Occupational licensing tends to enrich people who already are well-equipped to succeed in the job market, while also erecting additional barriers to people who struggle to maintain gainful employment. Licensing requirements serve as a form of protectionism for established professionals, making it prohibitively expensive for new professionals to enter the market.

A study by the Institute for Justice found Iowa is the 12th most broadly and onerously licensed state, making this “one of the worst states for occupational licensing for lower-income workers.” Iowa requires state licenses for jobs that few other states do, such as dental assistants, travel agents and taxi drivers.

Critics of licensing reform like to present straw man arguments about allowing unlicensed doctors to perform surgery. To my knowledge, no serious advocate has suggested abolishing medical licensing. Surely there is some middle ground between no licenses and dozens of them.

While groups focused on free markets and limited government have been leaders in educating policymakers about the harmful effects of excessive licensure requirements, it has become a uniquely bipartisan campaign.

Then-President Barack Obama’s administration published a thoughtful review of the costs and benefits of licensing in 2015, and also offered state governments a useful framework for reform.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton proposed offering federal incentives to states that streamline or eliminate unnecessary licensing programs, while being careful to preserve requirements that protect health and safety.

Even California — the preeminent model for big government and the nanny state — has taken modest steps toward relaxing its work requirements. A law passed last year protects some criminal offenders from having their licenses revoked.

In Iowa last year, lawmakers approved and Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law similar to California’s. However, Iowa policymakers have so far been unable to reach consensus on a more robust plan to ease licensure restrictions.

Luckily for Iowans, many other states provide promising examples for us to follow.

Some of the best ideas from around the country include reducing fees and training hours, providing reciprocity for professionals licensed in other states and allowing consumer choice provisions so unlicensed individuals could work as long as they disclose their status to clients.

The simplest solution, of course, is to simply eliminate licensing requirements for jobs where requirements serve no obvious public safety benefit.

It’s past time to shrink our burdensome bureaucracy and let Iowans get to work.

Comments: (319) 339-3156; adam.sullivan@thegazette.com

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