Licensing reforms for occupations: Will they help or hurt the public?

Meena's Spa & Salon in Tallahassee. Photo credit: Danielle J. Brown.

Stacey Reiser, a barber at Meena’s Spa & Salon, has been cutting hair for decades and she’s worried about what’s going on in the state Capitol.

Lawmakers and the governor are pushing to reform the way future professionals enter their trade, from reducing education requirements to eliminating licenses for certain fields.

Essentially, lawmakers are asking Floridians to trust the market to help regulate who is qualified or not, in certain occupations.

All of this has the potential to shape new opportunities for people who want to get in the door and jumpstart their occupation. But not everyone is on board, and it’s not clear if the public will be helped or harmed.

In Reiser’s perspective, the reforms could raise safety concerns in her field.

Legislation filed in the Capitol slices the education-hour requirement for barbers from 1,200 hours to 900 hours.

“People already don’t know what they’re doing,” Reiser said.

And she believes the cut in hours will jeopardize education in the area of health practices that could impact clients.

“In our industry, we learn how to deal with sanitation and communicable diseases. I see things like that slipping through the cracks,” Reiser said.

The occupational licensing deregulation initiative has floated through the Florida Legislature for years and failed in the past two legislative sessions.

Lawmakers are, once again, trying to push the proposals through the 2020 session, impacting not only barbers but other professionals, including building inspectors, cosmetologists and certified public accountants.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has prioritized the occupational licensing reforms for this year’s session.

During the State of the State address earlier this month, DeSantis said “citizens shouldn’t need a permission slip from the government in order to earn a living.”

“Florida’s occupational licensing regime too often hinders upward mobility, often for lower income workers,” DeSantis said, “because so much of the regime is based not on the legitimate goal of protecting public health and safety but on keeping people out—creating a guild that benefits insiders at the expense of those seeking to enter moderate income professions ranging from barbers to interior design.”

There are two major pieces of legislation that cover occupational licensing changes. One of them is Senate Bill 474 and its House equivalent, HB 1193.

Proponents promise to remove unnecessary license requirements and reduce licensing fees or barriers to obtain various occupational licenses.

The bills focus on a few areas for reform and imply various degrees of impact:

/The Senate bill removes the penalty of suspending the licenses from professionals for defaulting on their student loans, a punishment that actively diminishes a person’s ability to pay their loans further.

For state Sen. Ben Albritton, the bill sponsor and a Republican representing several counties in south central Florida, this is an obvious change.

“I’m not sure the point of taking away somebody’s license to earn a living and create income…It’s just counterintuitive,” Albritton said during a committee meeting.

/The Senate bill would accept licenses from other states in certain occupations, so long as the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation deems the out-of-state license to be of equal or of stricter education. This would apply to certified public accountants, home inspectors, building code administrators, engineers, and veterinarians.

/The House and Senate bills remove the requirement for licenses for nail polishers, natural hair braiders and wrappers, and boxing announcers and timekeepers.

Some of the bill’s finer details concern people in communities, and what is deemed an unnecessary license requirement for a particular occupation is up for debate.

Valencia Jones, owner of Mandisa Ngozi Art & Braiding Gallery in Tallahassee, learned that the legislation removed license requirements for natural hair braiding and wrapping and she was fearful about substandard sanitation practices.

Jones currently supports the bill but has other concerns.

Jones said that formal education in caring for natural hair can prevent negative reactions to products and hair loss due to improper braiding techniques. Proper sanitation techniques also work to prevent the spread of HIV, scalp diseases, and ringworm during hair care.

The lawmakers backing the legislation are determined to see it through. For example, Albritton invited opponents to visit him in his Senate office to work through their concerns.

He is open to criticism and change. Albritton initially wanted to remove the requirement for makeup applicators to have a license to practice. But then, he changed his mind after speaking with professionals in cosmetology.

“There are a lot of funky chemicals that they use,” Albritton remarked at a hearing.

Other changes related to adjusting education hours for various occupations. That way, low-income students can still receive federal Pell grants, which provide aid for classes in their occupation.

Americans for Prosperity, a group backed by Charles Koch of Koch Industries, have been pushing state senators to support occupational licensing deregulation, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Opponents are concerned about removing licensing requirements to provide nutritional and dietary guidance. In the House bill, so long as individuals do not claim that they are licensed dieticians or nutritionists, they can provide paid nutritional advice.

“The license requirement holds a responsibility as a part of the health care system to provide critical, therapeutic, and preventative care to our patients and community members,” said Afaf Qasem, who is a state policy representative and state regulatory specialist at Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Therefore, we should not be grouped with medical nonprofessionals in this bill.”

Brett Ewer, representative of CrossFIT, Inc. from Washington D.C., supports no longer needing a license to provide paid nutritional and dietary guidance. He argues that, under current Florida law, trainers cannot recommend nutritional advice to their clients.

State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican representing part of Hernando County, is the sponsor of the House bill on occupational licensing deregulation.

As to interior designers who are still concerned about the legislation, Ingoglia cites Florida as one of only six states that regulate commercial interior designers.

“So, when a question on safety, health, welfare of the public,” said Ingoglia, “I would ask you a question, and you can answer yourself. ‘Do you think that the people in the other 44 states are less healthy, and less taken care of?”

Ingoglia then complimented Ewer’s testimony and classified current nutritional and dietetic licensing requirements as a “censoring of free speech.”