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Who wants to be regulated

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Probably it had a direct connection to the upcoming gubernatorial campaign, but the May 19 governor’s order to review occupational licensing in Idaho is a useful idea.

As long as everyone is prepared for some unpredictability.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little issued the order calling for a review of the licenses during one of the (ever-increasing) days when he was serving as acting governor. The idea is to take a fresh look at all those licenses Idaho, like other states, requires of people in many occupations, from doctors to electricians to cosmetologists. These licenses are set up by the legislature, generally to be governed by specific boards – usually made up mostly of licensees – and only rarely come up for an existential discussion. Never hurts to take a good review and find out where these licensing requirements are still needed, or not, or may need some adjustment.

Those inclined toward a simplistic philosophy might take these licenses, individually or as a group, as a sign of ever-expanding government. But that’s not quite the way these things usually happen.

Consider medical licenses, among the oldest of the group. In the United States, the earliest licenses did not come from any government entity, and weren’t government-enforced; they came from associations of relatively well-educated physicians who would issue “licenses” as a kind of seal of approval. That was still the case for years after the American Medical Association formed in 1847. Formal licensing, at the state level – required licensing that permitted you to practice medicine – happened at the state level later, after strong lobbying from the physicians and their organizations. It did not happen overnight; California, for example, set up its state licensing process in 1901. In Texas, an early effort started in 1837, was killed off a decade later, then sort of revived in 1873.

These changes were accompanied by battles between those who wanted to be regulated (often, those with better credentials and reputations) and those who didn’t want to be (often characterized as, though not always, quacks). The battle was not a libertarian-type battle, but a struggle within a profession, over such issues as public safety, bars to entry (fewer licensees can mean a more favorable business position), standards of conduct and more.

Aspects of these issues have surfaced in a whole lot of the calls for licensing, practically all of which have been initiated by people in the profession or occupation being licensed.

(If you want to check out who’s licensed in Idaho, you can get a start by going to https://ibol.idaho.gov/IBOL/, the website of the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses, which is devoted to helping many of the boards do their work. A number of licensing offices are located in other places around the web.)

Little noted in his call for a review, “It’s been nearly four decades since government has taken a look at many of these licenses, and with advancements in technology it’s time for us to ask: Is it needed? Can we modernize? How can the state provide better customer service? Can government get out of the way and still protect the common good? I don’t see this as a knock on government but rather as an opportunity for government to work with citizens, to roll back unneeded regulation, and make our processes more user-friendly.”

Those are all fair questions, but don’t imagine that the in-professional arguments have all gone away. That said, there may be some usefulness in resurfacing some of them.

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