Lawmakers erect another barrier to entry, economic progress

Fred Birnbaum Articles

The pattern is a familiar one: An occupation, business, or industry gains some prominence, gets some scale and then looks around for ways to limit entry into their profession.

Usually industry insiders tell us new rules or regulations will serve the public or, for more poignancy, protect a disadvantaged segment of society.

Industry, with the help of well-intentioned lawmakers, repeated this pattern Wednesday as the House Health and Welfare Committee approved a bill for new regulations on sign language interpreters.

The interpreters gave the legislation their enthusiastic support.

One of the selling points of occupational licensure, according to the fiscal note accompanying the bill is that, “there will be no fiscal impact on state or local funds; the cost of the licensing will be borne by licensees and those seeking licenses.”

Absent was a thorough discussion of the impact on individuals using sign language services, in the form of higher prices. The initial cost of licensure will be up to $2,000.

Additionally, even licensure proponents acknowledged the plan would, at least initially, reduce the number of available interpreters. The audience was told that the initial shortage would quickly be filled and that in the long run prices for interpretive services would be flat or would decline.

No compelling evidence was provided, but naturally assurances were given. Proponents also ignored the fiscal impact to taxpayers for interpretive services paid through Medicaid.

Is it possible to restrict entry into a profession, charge fees for licensing, and then expect prices for the service to decline? Perhaps the members of the Health and Welfare Committee, some of whom were openly unfamiliar with the particulars of the bill before them, saw this as a side issue.

So if you want to interpret part-time or volunteer your services in most public settings, you must get licensed or potentially be charged with a misdemeanor. Never mind, unlicensed neighbor helping neighbor or a family member helping a sibling to purchase an appliance – by Idaho code you will need a license.

Here’s my testimony to the committee: