By Russell Withers, General Counsel & Senior Policy Analyst. Nov. 26, 2019
TCCRI has spent many years raising awareness on the topic of occupational licensing. Most recently, our 2019 Free Enterprise, Energy, and Infrastructure Task Force Report contained several policy recommendations on licensing that were made law by the 86th Texas Legislature, such as repealing criminal penalties for working without a license (See HB 1894, Goldman | SP: Hancock) and allowing license holders who default on their student loans to keep their licenses and continue working (See SB 37, Zaffirini | SP: Krause). TCCRI's model legislation, The Occupational Licensing Consumer Choice Act, was filed in at least two states in 2019 (HB 2697 in West Virginia | SB 500 in Missouri).
The thing that caught my eye recently was Governor Abbott's letter to the heads of state agencies that regulate licensed professionals. In it, he states that "every Texan deserves the opportunity to earn a living free from unnecessary state intrusion, and there is more work to be done to eliminate barriers to work in Texas." Indeed.
Governor Abbott continues by asking all state agency leaders "to take all appropriate actions under existing statutory authority to help Texans in this important effort." Things that the Governor wants these agencies to do administratively include general assessments of "whether existing licensing regulations help or hinder Texans' right to earn a living," but a few of the more specific recommendations are worth highlighting. Consider the following group of three:
Identifying other jurisdictions with licensing requirements that are substantially equivalent to Texas’s licensing requirements, as required by last session’s Senate Bill 1200;
Recognizing substantially equivalent out-of-state occupational licenses for people who are in good standing in all states where they are licensed; and
Accepting professional experience as a substitute for licensure in cases where a person moves to Texas from a state that does not license his or her occupation.
These three related recommendations all stand for the general proposition that Texas's licensure laws are not the only designation worth recognizing and certainly are not the only market signal for quality and qualification. Senate Bill 1200 (Campbell) made it easier for military spouses professionally licensed in other states to move to Texas by recognizing their out-of-state licenses so long as they are based on "substantially equivalent" requirements to those that we have in Texas. SB 1200 is an excellent bill that should be used as a model for far greater out-of-state license recognition than military spouses. Governor Abbott's letter recognizes that fact. And while it should produce positive results from state agencies in terms of what those agencies have the authority to accomplish on their own, it will hopefully create some momentum for an expansion of SB 1200 in the next legislative session.
Governor Abbott's letter makes nearly a dozen requests of state agencies on licensing. A key recommendation is "to reduce license application fees to 75% or less of the national average for equivalent or comparable occupations." Another is to reduce "excessive educational and work experience requirements, absent compelling evidence that doing so would not adequately protect the public interest." The Governor could not be clearer. He recognizes occupational licensing as burdensome. He is ordering state agencies to do what they can to ease those burdens.
Texas is clearly moving in the right direction on occupational licensing. Legislators like Senator Kelly Hancock and Representative Craig Goldman, among others, have worked hard to successfully repeal numerous licenses in Texas and reduce burdens in many others. A recent issue of Fiscal Notes from the Comptroller highlights the legislature's work in this area. It identifies deregulation in 2017 by the 85th Legislature "the largest deregulation effort in Texas history," which included the elimination of 26 different licenses and credentials in Texas. Those efforts continued in 2019 with the aforementioned HB 1894, SB 37, and several others.
With over 750 occupations in Texas requiring a credential of some kind, there are plenty of opportunities for the Legislature to continue breaking down barriers to earning an honest living. That could be accomplished by additional repeals, or by passage of the Occupational Licensing Consumer Choice Act.