Apparently, if you’re a legislator in Oklahoma and want to look like you’re doing something about an issue while not actually doing anything at all, you pass a bill to create a commission to study the issue. At least, that’s how the Oklahoma Occupational Licensing Advisory Commission (LAC) has operated so far.
According to a study I did while at the Goldwater Institute, Oklahoma ranked as the 24th most-licensed state. A study by the Institute for Justice ranked Oklahoma 35th in how broadly and onerous its licensing laws are. But these, and similar studies, are really just counts of how many occupations states license, so they leave out a lot of nuance.
The Institute for Justice’s report does add some nuance, reporting that by its standard of measure, Oklahoma ranks 18th in how burdensome are its licensing laws. That is an important piece of information. On the one hand, according to the Institute for Justice, Oklahoma’s licensing laws cover fewer occupations than in many states, but on the other hand, those laws are so egregious that Oklahoma still ranks worse than 32 states in how burdensome its licensing laws are.
And that is exactly what six different analysts at the 1889 Institute have found again and again. We have looked at eleven licensed occupations in Oklahoma, and in nearly every case, we have found that in some respect, Oklahoma’s licensing laws impose the most onerous requirements among the states. For example, Oklahoma is one of only a few states requiring a social worker to have a college degree, even as the state struggles to fill social worker positions. Not only is Oklahoma one of only 15 states that licenses locksmiths, it is the only state that requires locksmiths to be 21 years old. Ours is the only state that requires an electrologist to have a college degree. No state requires more education of funeral directors and embalmers than Oklahoma, though some require less. Colorado does not license them at all.
Yet, in this year’s LAC recommendations, no changes were recommended to Oklahoma’s social worker licensing laws and only alarm salesperson licensing was recommended to be eliminated from the state’s locksmith licensing law. We criticized hair braider licensing in Oklahoma’s cosmetology licensing law; its elimination was the only recommendation from LAC with respect to barber and cosmetology licensing. Yet, of the eleven licensed occupations we have reviewed, none of these licensing laws have been found necessary according to the rubric we have established, one not unlike that which LAC uses. Nonetheless, LAC has not recommended getting rid of any of them.
In fact, at the most recent meeting of LAC, the chair, Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn seemed more interested in placing more requirements on cosmetologists than doing anything to free markets and expand opportunity. And speaking of opportunity, LAC members had none when it came to establishing a rapport with members of the general public who testified, due to some bad advice about how the state’s open meetings law works. That bad advice, that a commission member having a public conversation with someone testifying on-topic was not allowed, was given by, you guessed it, a licensed attorney.
Byron Schlomach is Director of 1889 Institute