Louisiana Reforming Licensing Board To Protect Small Businesses Like Hair Braiding

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Professional licensing boards have become a topic of conversation across the U.S. as business owners and public officials have sought to find opportunities to reduce regulation and encourage economic growth. The purpose of these boards is to generate industry-specific rules that require more in-depth knowledge than legislators could hope to attain, thereby protecting the public from the proverbial “snake-oil salesmen” of the world.

But as more and more licensing requirements have been added over decades, some are questioning if perhaps they are over-regulating certain occupations — and whether some fields need regulatory boards at all.

The issue gained some notice in Louisiana in 2017 when the Legislature took up licensing for hair-braiding. A bill that would’ve eliminated the need for a license for such work passed with overwhelming support in the House, but never made it to a vote in the Senate. The hair-braiding regulation became controversial because of the extensive cosmetology requirements needed to obtain a license.

Now, state Rep. Patrick Connick, R-Marrero, has a bill in the House in the current session that would create a new layer of oversight for professional licensing boards in the state. House Bill 372 would create an Occupational Licensing Review Commission that would consist of the governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state, or a designated stand-in for each.

The new commission would review all regulations put forth by occupational licensing boards to make sure they comply with state law.

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Connick said that he was inspired to craft the legislation as a result of a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said that such boards, when made up of members of the industry they regulate, must be overseen by another branch of government in order to retain antitrust exemptions.

“In that case, the Board of Dentistry in North Carolina issued cease and desist order letters to non-dentists who were offering teeth whitening services in malls and other areas,” Connick said during a House Commerce Committee hearing Tuesday.

“The board determined that the teeth whitening was a practice of dentistry, and they put over 50 companies out of business that were providing this service. Suit was filed against the board, and the board’s defense was that they were immune to antitrust laws because they were acting for the health, safety and welfare of the state.”

As a result of the court’s ruling, Connick said, boards acting in their own interest rather than the interests of the public may be stripped of their antitrust protection. HB372 would help to prevent that in Louisiana, he said.

“In 1960, about five percent of all jobs required permission from the government,” Connick said. “Today, that number is more like 30 percent, and Louisiana leads the way in that area.”

Rep. Rodney Lyons, D-Harvey, wanted to know if Connick’s bill would interfere with the legislators’ existing powers to oversee occupational licensing boards in favor of the executive branch.

“So is it going to be a preference now that when boards have policy determination, they don’t come to us to get a ruling or approval to do it, they go to this … occupational license board first?” Lyons asked. “Where does it fit now with the legislative powers that exist now?”

But Committee Chairman Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport, reassured Lyons that legislators would not be ceding any authority.

The Commerce Committee will continue to review and approve or disapprove any proposed policies and procedures, he said. He added that the Division of Administration was already reviewing occupational rules as a result of an executive order, and so Connick’s bill would simply reinforce that policy by putting it into law.

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Carmody noted that the Society of Louisiana CPAs had registered opposition to the bill, but no one spoke against it during the committee hearing, and it was advanced to the full House without any dissenting votes.

A version of this article appeared on Watchdog.org.

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