Bill Main knows a lot about history, but at one time he faced arrest if he shared what he knows in Washington, D.C.
The owner of Segs In The City, Main started a tour guide business in nearby Annapolis, Md., in 2004. After having some initial success, he tried to expand his operation into the nation’s capital, where he discovered just how difficult getting a tour guide license can be. The city required all tour guides to be U.S. citizens and to have resided in Washington, D.C., for at least three years.
Main had a green card but was not yet a citizen. And he didn’t live in the city.
Because of that, he wasn’t allowed to tell people about the history of the Washington Monument, or explain the significance of the Lincoln Memorial.
“I did not see why my right to talk for a living should be contingent on my citizenship or residence,” Main told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last week.
The government couldn’t prove what interest that served, either. In 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down most of Washington’s tour guide licensing law, after a lawsuit filed by Main challenged the regulations on First Amendment grounds.
Main is still fighting. He’s currently involved in a challenge against a similar licensing scheme at Gettysburg National Park in Pennsylvania.
At a time when bipartisanship is sorely lacking in Washington, senators from both parties agree with the White House on the issue of occupational licensing: It’s out of control.
Even though occupational licensing is mostly a state and local issue, the federal government is increasingly interested in the topic. A U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 2014 opened the possibility that onerous licensing schemes could be challenged under antitrust laws because they unfairly protect existing businesses from competition.
The Federal Trade Commission and the White House have recently weighed in, supporting the Supreme Court’s perspective.
Now Congress is getting on board.
“The rapid growth of state licensing boards that are controlled by members of the profession they regulate has become a major threat to equal opportunity in this country,” said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, in a statement about last week’s hearing. “We need to examine the causes and consequences of such a major obstacle to economic mobility.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said professions given the power to regulate themselves must do so in a way that protects consumers and does not harm competition.
There’s plenty of evidence that many licensing schemes do the latter.
It takes 890 days to become licensed as a barber in Nevada.
In Iowa, it takes 2,100 hours of training to become a licensed hair-braider. That’s 17 times the amount of training required to become an EMT.
Want to become an interior designer in Florida? You’ll need six years of training to be licensed.
In all, more than 25 percent of all jobs in America now require a government-issued permission slip.
Defenders of licensing schemes argue they are needed to protect public health and safety, but academic research increasingly questions that view.
“The reality is that occupational licensing is likely to reduce employment growth, contributes to unemployment, and increases costs to consumers,” said Morris Kleiner, a professor of economics at the University of Minnesota.
Kleiner’s research shows that residents of Minnesota pay $3 billion per year in higher costs because of licensing requirements. Those costs turn into increased revenue for license-holders, at the expense of consumers and would-be entrepreneurs.
There’s scant evidence that licensing protects public health and safety, Kleiner told the committee.
There’s also a generational gap created by the licensing schemes, because older, established businesses and individuals who hold licenses have an incentive to shut the door on competition from new businesses.
“Young people shouldn’t need an expensive permission slip from the government to seek work in their desired fields,” said David Barnes, policy director for Generation Opportunity, a national nonprofit advocating policies that increase economic freedom for millennials. “Repealing occupational licenses will allow young people to chase after their dreams and strengthen our economy.”
Main eventually won the right to give tours in Washington, but he’s still scratching his head about some of the weird rules in the city’s licensing policy—like the one that said the licensing requirement did not apply if you stood in a single spot and spoke but did apply if you moved around to different locations.
“I was never able to see what government interest could possibly be served by such a scheme,” he said.
Originally published at Watchdog.org.