Gov. Asa Hutchinson encouraged his appointed Red Tape Reduction Working Group Wednesday (Feb. 21) to balance protecting public safety with removing barriers to work opportunities.
He also reminded its members during their introductory meeting that others are watching what Arkansas does in this area.
The working group will produce a report about the state’s occupational licensing requirements this fall before the 2019 legislative session. Members include five state senators, five state representatives, and five other appointees, all appointed by the governor.
In a brief address, Hutchinson said the group must evaluate how much risk each occupation offers the public. Surgeons require a high degree of licensure, while some professions don’t need a license.
Hutchinson said he had met with a contractor in Springdale who had described the barriers faced by that profession.
“It wasn’t any question at all that when it comes to contractors, they need to be licensed,” he said. “But how many do you need to have, and is it at the right level that we have, and is there any way to make this less burdensome?”
Hutchinson pointed out that licensing burdens are a point of comparison between states, saying, “This is not just something that is cooking in our minds, but it is something that is looked at nationally, and nationally there are scorecards going out, and Arkansas is not scoring very well.”
Arkansas had 580 different types of occupational licenses in 2017, as listed in the Department of Workforce Services’ Directory of Licensed, Certified and Registered Occupations in Arkansas. Some of those were closely related, such as the six different types of licenses handed out to teachers. Twenty licenses are Oaklawn-related, including one for jockeys (O*NET CODE 27-2021.00) and one for the clerk of scales (O*NET CODE 27-2023.00), which is the person who weighs the jockeys.
The directory lists the number of licenses awarded in some professions. Arkansas had 1,709 actively licensed residential building contractors in 2017; 8,435 licensed professional engineers in 2016; 51,000 notary publics in 2017; and 307 professional wrestlers licensed between April 30, 2014, thru May 1, 2015.
Those licenses are awarded by 86 different state entities, including various divisions within state agencies.
Rep Bruce Cozart, R-Hot Springs, the working group’s co-chairman, said afterwards that he didn’t believe highly-educated professionals will get a serious look. Likewise, “If it’s public safety, and there’s an issue that would affect safety or consumer protection, we’ll probably leave those alone,” he said.
An example of a requirement that could be considered is the high number of training hours – 1,500 – required to be a licensed cosmetologist, Cozart said.
The group’s other co-chairman, Sen. John Cooper, R-Jonesboro, said structural changes are needed.
“I don’t think we should consider our work done with the low-hanging fruit,” he said.
Arkansas is part of an 11-state consortium that is studying occupational licensing under a Department of Labor grant to the National Council of State Legislatures, the National Governors Association, and the Council of State Governments. The NCSL’s Suzanne Hultin said the Labor Department awarded the grant because of the growth in occupational licensing requirements during the past 50-60 years.
The three-year grant’s objectives are to identify and reduce unnecessary licensing barriers and to improve licensure portability and reciprocity. Areas of emphasis include military veterans and their families, immigrants with work authorizations, individuals with criminal histories, and dislocated and long-term unemployed workers.
Hultin later told Talk Business & Politics that the NCSL does not rank states in order of licensing burdens. She said states have different industries and therefore different licensing requirements, making a comparison difficult.
Senate members are Sens. Cooper; Missy Irvin, R-Mountain Home; Jane English, R-North Little Rock; Trent Garner, R-El Dorado; and Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs. State representatives are Reps. Cozart; LeAnne Burch, D-Monticello; Milton Nicks, D-Marion; Jeff Williams, R-Springdale; and Richard Womack, R-Arkadelphia.
Other appointees are Bill Gossage, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for external affairs; Dr. Charisse Childers, director of Arkansas Career Education; Leon Jones Jr., director of Arkansas Department of Labor; and consumer representatives Lula Dixon and Bob Kucheravy.
Womack sponsored a bill in the 2017 legislative session where private individuals would have had the “right to engage in a lawful occupation.” If the bill had passed, individuals could have challenged unreasonable and overly restrictive regulations at their own expense in a judicial or administrative proceeding.