TULSA - To even call Oklahoma’s process for obtaining a license to practice a trade or occupation a system might be something of a stretch, although Labor Commissioner Melissa Houston is working to correct the problem.
Currently, she told KRMG, the situation is fairly chaotic.
“There’s no place you can go to find out how many licenses we have, how expensive they are, how many training hours - I mean it’s kind of crazy,” Houston said. “We have 300 agencies, boards and commissions, and each one issues a number of different licenses.”
About a year ago, Gov. Mary Fallin formed a task force to study the issue, and last week the group issued twelve recommendations.
But Houston has already taken action, helping create a website that acts as a sort of informational clearing house on licensing in Oklahom
Meanwhile, the problem is a concern nationwide.
“This is a big issue at the national level,” Houston told KRMG. “The Trump administration is looking into what they can do at a national level to address it, but interestingly so did the Obama administration. And I can tell you from 25 years in public policy, when you have both the right and the left saying ‘hey, this is a problem,’ that is an area that is ripe for reform.”
She said according to the research they did at the Oklahoma Deparment of Labor, government oversight of occupational licensing grew rapidly in the second half of the 20th Century.
“In the 1950s, one in fifty occupations required a license. Today, it is one in three,” Houston said.
And she doesn’t think that’s necessary, much less beneficial.
“Is this an appropriate use of the government? Is this an appropriate are for the government to be in? Again, if you’re interfering with somebody’s ability to earn a living, then there needs to be a governmental interest.”
And there are only four areas, according to the task force’s findings, where the governmental interest exists.
Houston enumerated those areas: “When the public health is concerned, the public safety, there’s a fiduciary duty, or there is some sort of fundamental right that is impacted. Other than that, it really shouldn’t be a license. And there are lots of different ways to get there that aren’t a license. So, that’s really what we started analyzing and making some recommendations on.”
The database of licenses is a start, she said, although the ODL is still waiting from many of the agencies for the requested information.
The second tool, she said, is dubbed “the blueprint.”
“It is a way to get everyone on the same page, asking the same questions about licenses. And it is a model for the rest of the country. I’ve had several national groups that have reached out to me asking for it and looking to replicate it, because again it’s an issue across the country - not just in Oklahoma.”
The blueprint, she says, drills down on three basic questions:
- What is the governmental interest?
- Is there a less restrictive means?
- Who is regulating the licenses?
The goal now is to get the legislature to move on the task force’s recommendations.