WASHINGTON -- Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin discussed occupational licensing with U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta last week during a meeting at Labor Department headquarters.
Acosta argues that licensing requirements have spiraled out of control in recent decades. It's a concern that Griffin shares.
The labor secretary recently launched an initiative to identify areas in which occupational licenses hinder job growth; a former Arkansas state representative is helping with the project.
"In 1950, only about 1 in 20 jobs required a license. Today, more than 1 in 4 Americans need a license to legally perform their work," Acosta told the American Legislative Exchange Council during a July speech in Denver.
While licensing can be used to protect public health and safety, it shouldn't be used simply "to limit competition, bar entry, or create a privileged class," Acosta said.
The Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based nonprofit that battles for what it calls "economic liberty," recently ranked Arkansas as being the "third most broadly and onerously licensed state."
The libertarian group's study was highlighted last month in the pages of The Wall Street Journal; a list of the worst-scoring states was prominently displayed.
The institute, which helped convince Arkansas lawmakers in 2015 to eliminate licensing for natural hair braiders, says Arkansas requires licenses for 72 of the 102 professions it reviewed, ranging from fire alarm installer and floor sander contractors to massage therapists and milk samplers.
License fees vary, as does the amount of training or education that must be completed before a license is granted.
The report didn't examine licensing standards for doctors and lawyers, instead focusing on lower-paying professions, officials said.
Jennifer McDonald, one of the authors of the Institute for Justice report, said unnecessary licensing harms workers as well as consumers.
"Folks who are just trying to put meat on the table are trying to enter these occupations and they're being kept out by these overly burdensome licensing laws. So it's bad for them and their families. Occupational licensing in general is also bad for the economy because it allows licensed workers to increase their prices by keeping competition out of their occupation," she said.
In an interview, Griffin said Arkansas should review all of its licensing requirements.
"We certainly, in many areas, need occupational licensing, but ... we need to make sure that they make sense, that they're reasonable, that they're rational. Not all the ones that we have are," he said.
The Republican from Little Rock did not specify which of the regulations he views as particularly onerous.
Excessive licensing requirements limit competition and make it harder for qualified people to find employment, Griffin said.
"Make no mistake. This is a jobs issue and it's one that we need to address," he said.
Griffin expressed particular concern that the licensing requirements present barriers to well-qualified spouses of military personnel who have practiced their profession in other states.
An in-depth analysis of Arkansas' licensing standards can't hurt, he said.
"If people are confident we have it right, then there's no harm in taking a look at it and making sure. We ought to review them one by one," he said.
As lieutenant governor, Griffin can't change the licensing rules himself. "The Legislature holds the power here, with the governor," he said. "What I want to be is a facilitator and a help."
Griffin said he's glad that Acosta is scrutinizing occupational licensing standards on the federal level as well.
"This is an issue that's near and dear to his heart. It's one that makes sense," he said.
Former state Rep. Dan Greenberg, a Republican from Bryant who now works in the office of the assistant secretary for policy, will be deeply involved in the review.
"The reform of over-extensive and burdensome occupational licensing is a great interest of the secretary of labor's ... and for some years, it's been an interest of mine," Greenberg said in an interview last month.
In Arkansas, state lawmakers are also showing interest in occupational licensing.
"I think it's something that we will look at more closely, spend some time reviewing," said Sen. Jane English, R-North Little Rock. "Some of these are necessary. Some of them are unnecessary."
The goal, she said, is to remove any unnecessary obstacles.
"I want people to be able to have good jobs, better jobs, [to] have the skills [and] the education to be able to lead a great life," she added.
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