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Right-to-work 2.0: Lawmaker wants to reform occupational licensing in Wisconsin

By   /   September 29, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

Call it right-to-work 2.0.

A bill currently being considered in the state Assembly would prevent Wisconsin municipalities from creating new occupational and professional licenses.

“I think what we’re attempting to create could properly be called right-to-work, because you wouldn’t have to worry about municipalities creating onerous requirements you must meet in order to practice your profession” said State Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield.

Kooyenga, who introduced AB 116, has long been interested in reforming how occupations are licensed.

“I’ve always been pretty passionate about this,” Kooyenga told Wisconsin Watchdog. “Licensing creates a barrier to work.”

“Occupational licensing is the biggest issue in labor economics today,” said Lee McGrath, legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice.

IJ is a public interest law firm which specializes in economic liberty litigation.

“About 25 percent of people in this country need permission from the government in order to pursue their calling. That’s far larger than the percentage of people who are union members or who earn the minimum wage,” McGrath explained.

“This bill is a very constructive move by the Legislature.”

“There are certain profession where we want licenses. We want to license dentists and doctors, for example, because there is a public safety issue in those cases,” Kooyenga said.

“It just makes more sense for a practical standpoint that if there is a profession that needs to be licensed to have one standard across the whole state. Therefore, the license should be created at the state-level, so people don’t have to navigate a patchwork of local licensing requirements and pay fees in multiple jurisdictions.”

According to Kooyenga, local licenses are often motivated by things other than the public good.

Photo courtesy of state of Wisconsin

RIGHT-TO-WORK 2.0: Rep. Dale Kooneyga is sponsoring a bill that would reform occupational and professional licensing in Wisconsin.

“A lot of time licensing is used for one of two reasons. First, the profession wants to fence out competition. They grandfather themselves in and create onerous requirements to keep others from getting into the profession.”

“Second, at the municipal level there are cases of a license being created to raise revenue or so an alderman can exercise his power. Because politically it’s very easy to claim you’re solving a problem by creating a license,” Kooyenga said.

City officials and organizations representing Wisconsin cities are opposed to AB 116.

“We’re always concerned when the Legislature limits, reduces or takes away municipal authority to regulate for health and safety concerns,” Curt Witynski, assistant director of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, told Wisconsin Watchdog.

“Citizens go to their local bodies first when they have problems that needs regulations for health and safety purposes. Those local bodies are much more nimble than the state and can provide a much quicker response. The state will take much longer to address a problem,” Witynski said.

That’s an outdated attitude, according to McGrath.

“Consumers, with the current explosion of information, are in a far better position than ever before to make better decisions than city councilmen and regulators as to who should provide them services.”

“A great example of this is Uber, where you know far more about the quality of the driver than you do about someone who has a taxi license issued by the city of Madison,” McGrath said.

RELATED: Uber, Lyft pick at Madison’s old taxi regulating scabs

Kooyenga is sympathetic to concerns cities have expressed.

“I’ve asked the Assembly leadership not to schedule a vote for the bill yet, to give cities time to get in place any regulations they feel they need. Because some regulations do make sense and this won’t affect anything already in place,” Kooyenga said.

“But if there’s a profession that hasn’t been licensed to date, there’s probably no reason to license it and create bureaucratic hurdles.”

Contact Paul Brennan at pbrennan@watchdog.org


Paul formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.