Opinion

A lost opportunity to employ more Coloradans

Author: Jesse Mallory - May 1, 2018 - Updated: May 1, 2018

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Jesse Mallory

At the start of this year’s legislative session, Colorado House Speaker Crisanta Duran told her colleagues that “we love Colorado and what it stands for: opportunity for all who show responsibility through hard work.”

But Duran’s words ring hollow in the wake of her decision to kill not one, but two bills that would have made it easier for many Coloradans to enter the workforce. The speaker did this by referring these bills to the State, Veteran and Military Affairs Committee, a committee Capitol insiders call the “graveyard of bills.” Their upcoming hearings are all but a formality that will end in certain defeat.

The Colorado Right to Earn a Living Act would require that licensing agencies prove there is a legitimate public health and safety reason for some of our state’s most onerous occupational licensing requirements.

Enacted under the guise of protecting consumers, occupational licenses have exploded in recent years. Here in Colorado, around 34 of 102 lower-income occupations studied by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, require an occupational license. In fact, Colorado’s occupational license requirements amount to an average of $344 in fees and 260 days lost in classes and training.

Among the occupations requiring a license include cosmetologist, barber, make-up artist, travel guide, shampooer and manicurist, just to name a few.

You want to be a shampooer?  You must first pay a fee of $155 and attend roughly 1,200 hours of training before you can work in a hair salon in Colorado.

The fees and the hundreds of hours of classes are more than a mere inconvenience to the single-mother needing child care, or someone recently released from incarceration who has little disposable income and faces a host of other barriers to employment. These laws represent yet one more impediment on the road to opportunity.

Research shows that these regulations hit low-income and minority Americans the hardest, with one study finding that the licensing of barbers reduces the probability of a black individual working as a barber by 17.3 percent.

Besides being excessive, many of the licensing requirements make little sense. For example, to be licensed to work as an emergency medical technician in Colorado you need about 35 days of training. But to be licensed to work as a barber, the requirements are nearly 10 times higher.

It seemed like the General Assembly was on its way to correcting these sorts of injustices when the state Senate passed SB 193 by a voice vote and another bill, S.B. 236, the Least Restrictive Regulation Professions and Occupations Act, a similar bill that had bi-partisan support were making their way through the General Assembly. Unfortunately, Speaker Duran made sure both bills stopped dead in their tracks by referring them to the graveyard of bills.

Using the committee to quietly get rid of bills the speaker doesn’t like is one of the perks of her office. But she should still have to explain to the people of Colorado why she opposes a fair, open and transparent debate on the merits of a bill that could make it easier for folks to find work and put food on the table for themselves and their families — especially when her rhetoric is littered with appeals to “economic opportunities” and “job creation.”

It’s unfortunate that it has come to do this. Occupational licensing reform is bipartisan. Folks across the ideological spectrum know that these changes are needed. It’s why President Obama and some of the most conservative governors in the country have pushed to ease unnecessary occupational licensing regulations at the federal and state level.

What’s Speaker Duran’s excuse? The people of Colorado deserve an answer.

Jesse Mallory

Jesse Mallory

Jesse Mallory is the Colorado state director for Americans for Prosperity, the largest free-market grassroots organization in the state.