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What if Legislators Were Licensed? Well, Just to Make a Point...


1889 Institute, as a general matter, objects to occupational licensing. We have written about it more than any other subject. The scant benefits simply do not outweigh the enormous costs to consumers and entrepreneurs, and the burdens that disproportionately impact the poor. 

It must be noted that the remainder of this post is a work of satire. This should be obvious to anyone who has read even one of our papers, but each of the proposals below has an analogous provision in Oklahoma licensing laws. To those supportive of government-created cartels, these proposals might sound almost reasonable. 

A material threat to the public safety and welfare has for too long gone entirely unregulated, unrestrained and unchecked. This menace has the power to corrode not only mere industries, but to corrupt the entire state economy. It’s no overstatement to say that the practitioners of this perilous profession hold the power to destroy democracy as we know it. After all, it’s been said that “No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.”

As with lawyers and judges, the freedom of many hinges on the choices legislators make. Like doctors, people will live or die based on the quality of their work. Like new car dealers, they vitally affect the general economy of the state and the public interest and the public welfare. Like many other professions, the potential for fraud is great. 

While a great many publicly available websites and news organizations, trade groups and nonprofits make data available about legislators’ output, there is nothing to prevent consumers from selecting an unqualified and dangerous legislative practitioner. There is also very little in the law specifying the proper qualifications. At this time, the only requirements regard age and residency, not quality or qualification.  

Legislators operate with a dangerous lack of accountability and oversight. The value of their work to general society is not reflected in profits, the way private companies’ value is evaluated, so they can’t be disciplined by a market. The people charged with overseeing them – the electorate – are not paying attention (being busy with making a living), and could do little to change legislators’ behavior even if they were. Obviously, if an occupational license is good for pedorthists, funeral home directors, athletic trainers, massage therapists, and electrologists, it’s good enough for legislators. Thus, the following model based on the legislature’s own medicine. 

Commission
First things first, we will need a commission. The ethics commission is all fine and well [remember: satire] but if we’re going to make legislators a respectable profession, it needs to have its own oversight commission, and those commissioners need to be members of the legislative profession. Like with every other licensed profession, we put the foxes in charge of regulating foxes. The governor should appoint a 7 member commission, composed of six legislators and one lay member, to oversee legislators. The lay member helps to give the appearance that this is all for the benefit of the general public. These appointments would be subject to senate approval to keep up the appearance of checks and balances. 

Qualifications
Credentials for a successful practitioner are among the most important component to a licensing scheme. While it is not critical to the success of the scheme that the qualifications actually improve the quality of practitioner (the goal is to ensure that only a few people have the resources to become qualified, thereby reducing competition), it is easier to sell the public on the idea if it seems like the qualifications are at least tangentially related to the profession. 

Since the legislature creates the state budget, all candidates for such office must possess a degree in accounting. Since they write the laws, they must pass a course in legal writing. Since judges will interpret these laws, legislators also need to complete a statutory interpretation seminar. Since the state government sees fit to interfere so often in the economy, legislators may not take office until they have passed at least 12 credit hours in macroeconomics and antitrust law. 

Since there are fewer senators, they should be subject to heightened qualifications. Every candidate for the Oklahoma senate needs to have either a J.D., an MBA, a PhD in Economics, or be a CPA. One spot shall be reserved for a “lay” member of the Senate, who must hold an M.D. 

Testing
Each legislator must pass an extensive examination showing both their intellectual fitness and their moral integrity - or at least their knowledge of basic ethical concepts. That way when they screw over the public, we will know that they knew what they were doing was wrong, and any pleas to the contrary are fictional. 1889 Institute would be quite happy to be the sole provider of testing, and also to gather, confirm, and certify prospective legislators’ qualifications — for a modest fee. 

Continuing Education
Each legislator must earn no less than eight continuing legislative education credits, at least two of which must be in ethics. Again, for a small fee, 1889 Institute would be happy to provide such services. No more skipping out on ALEC or NCSL seminars, though, to golf with one’s favorite lobbyist since attendance would have to be proven.

Additional Requirements
Each prospective legislator must create and maintain an independent copy of every state law and session journal for the State of Oklahoma, dating to statehood, before being elected and admitted as a practicing legislator. This is analogous to the requirement that abstractors keep a complete set of independent records for the county in which they operate, even though the county records office maintains such records as a matter of course. This should severely reduce the number of people willing and able to run for office, and further entrench incumbents. 

Privileges 
The real action in occupational licensing isn’t in the qualifications, the testing, or the continuing education. That’s all just to ensure the club is exclusive, and to sell the public on the idea that they’re safer (when really occupational licensing increases costs, decreases service, and has neutral or negative effects on safety). The real action is in the perks we dole out to our VIP licensees. Given that legislators will be the ones voting to enact this license, they better be good ones. 

First, to ensure that the dignity of the office is maintained, there must be scarcity. Normally creating artificial scarcity is a core function of a licensing scheme. Here, the number of legislators is set in the state constitution

Second, each member shall be entitled to a pay rate set in statute. That means there won’t be any competition, ensuring that legislators don’t have to do a good job to be paid. Rates are set by the Legislative Compensation Board - members of which are currently selected by the governor and leadership of both legislative houses - but this should be modified so that the legislature selects a majority of the board. This gives the appearance that legislators aren’t giving themselves a raise, but rather that an “independent” board has determined that they deserve it. Don’t worry legislators, I’m sure your appointees will remember how they got there. In addition, the Ethics Commission shall do everything in its power to stifle free speech, which should, in most cases, favor incumbents - who already hold a significant advantage. 

Finally, members shall have the power to create new licensing regimes, for the benefit of themselves and their patrons. 


Mike Davis is a Research Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at mdavis@1889institute.org. 


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.

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