Wednesday, July 01, 2020

1889 Institute: Lawmakers foul out on occupational licensing -- again

Lawmakers Foul Out on Occupational Licensing—Again
By Luke Tucker

Oklahoma’s got an occupational licensing problem worse than other states. We don’t just regulate too many occupations (almost as many as Kansas and Missouri combined), we also overregulate. Our licensing laws are the 11th most burdensome nationwide. But that’s not what is most distressing. Many of our harshest regulations target occupations that conscientious lawmakers have no business legislating about in the first place.

To illustrate, take the 1889 Institute’s latest policy report that examines the Therapeutic Recreation Act, which mandates getting legal permission to sell or advertise recreation therapy services. The report finds this law flagrantly unjustified. The practice targeted by the law, not being dangerous or technical, simply doesn’t warrant being licensed.

Recreation therapy is a health profession whose specialists promote the overall welfare of patients coping with an illness, disability, or injury by helping them enjoy a hobby. Specialists may use games, crafts, or other fun leisure activities to advance this goal. They’re sort of like summer camp counselors, except they work in hospitals and rehab clinics. In short, the practice is totally innocuous.

Hence why this law is so unjust. The strongest cases for licensing typically involve practitioners who can potentially cause real harm if they commit malpractice, like airline pilots or pharmacists. That is, licensing laws, like all laws, are supposed to serve the common good. But recreation therapy licensing doesn’t do that. No one is made safer. No consumer is ensured better quality service, given the practice is already transparent. Who then does the law benefit?

Affluent, established specialists, that’s who. The law makes becoming a licensed recreational therapist so difficult that since it took effect in 2010, the pool of active specialists in our state shrank 28 percent. Inevitably, the decline in competition prompted a handsome wage increase for the specialists who could afford to stay in business. That’s inexcusable. No law should benefit some while costing others.

But not all legal credentialing is condemnable outright. Lawmakers should acknowledge with Aristotle that humans are social beings. We cherish our churches, schools, and families for the sense of identity that accompanies group membership. For the same legitimate reason, we cherish our professional associations, which transmit old knowledge to newcomers and confer exclusive titles on seasoned members. It’s actually a fine idea to enshrine this humane tradition in the law, if it can be done without creating artificial monopolies that suppress disadvantaged populations.

Fortunately, the 1889 Institute has written about how to design just such a system, one based on private, voluntary certification. Such a system would allow all citizens to seek responsible financial opportunities where they exist, while also offering certified practitioners legal protection against fraudulent claims of professional membership status. Lawmakers should act to install this win-win solution.


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