Rep. Kelley Packer appears determined to swim against a current that is washing away occupational regulation across the country.
Packer, R-McCammon, has again filed legislation, House Bill 46, that would make it a crime to do sign language interpretation without a state license. Her bill would give the state the authority to send a violator to jail for up to six months and levy a fine of up to $1,000.
As she argued in 2015, when she submitted her first sign language licensing bill, Packer says her intent is to protect the deaf from unqualified interpreters in legal or crucial medical health cases.
Bunk, say the legal experts who are helping to remove unnecessary government licensing of professions. Institute for Justice attorney Arif Panju notes, for decades governments have used a gossamer pretext of public safety to force a third of the American workforce to pay state governments for the privilege of going to work.
“People across the ideological spectrum have come to realize that this licensing is a barrier to entry in professions erected by those with an interest in keeping people out,” Panju said. “These licenses are essentially a government permission slip to earn a living; that is unconstitutional.”
Panju ought to know. Although it took three years, a federal court in 2015 agreed with Panju and his client that it was unreasonable for the state of Texas to demand thousands of hours of study and thousands of dollars for a cosmetology license for the privilege of braiding hair for a living.
Following the court’s lead, the Texas Legislature abolished hair braiding licensing.
This past July, Iowa exempted hair braiding from its cosmetology licensing rules. Licensing, Gov. Terry Branstad said at the time, “should only be mandated when necessary to serve public health or safety.”
A similar hair braiding case is currently on appeal in Missouri.
The Institute for Justice has provided momentum for a bipartisan wave of occupational regulatory reform. Last June the Obama Administration launched a $7.5 million grant program for organizations to combat onerous licensing, the first White House program of its kind.
A June 2015 White House report found in state after state that licensing was “inconsistent, inefficient, and arbitrary, with little purpose other than to protect those already in the field from further competition.”
The Arizona legislature last May passed a bill eliminating licensing requirements for such diverse trades as yoga instructors, citrus fruit packers, metallurgists and individuals who perform cremations.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin in December ordered a review of the panoply of her state’s occupational licensing, among the most burdensome in the country, according to the most comprehensive study of state regulation done to date by the Institute for Justice.
In applauding Fallin’s order, the editorial board of The Oklahoman, the state’s biggest newspaper, scoffed at the “purported public safety benefits” as “negligible or even laughable.”
In Nebraska, legislators have targeted licensing for 18 occupations, either for elimination or to reduce requirements.
Still, Panju points out, resistance to serious licensing reform remains high because licensing boards are invariably made up of professionals who have the most to gain by making it harder for others to enter the profession.
Last year, when Arizona legislators were dealing with reform, licensing board members fought tooth and nail to prevent their elimination. Daniel Scarpinato, spokesman for Gov. Douglas Ducey, told reporters at the time, “Arizona is perceived as a low-regulatory state, but this was the most difficult bill we worked on this session.”
In its study, IJ looked at 102 low income occupations licensed in at least one state. Idaho requires licenses for 47 of those occupations, ranking 19th highest of the 50 states. But the state ranked 36th in the burden on licensees in costs, education, examining, grade level and minimum age to obtain licenses.
Only 16 states license sign language interpretation. Nevada is the only state bordering Idaho that requires a license.
Packer’s bill seems innocuous. According to the fiscal note, it would only affect about 100 interpreters now working commercially in Idaho. Interpreters who work in the state’s school systems are regulated separately by Title 33, Chapter 13 of the Idaho code, with defined certification, educational, training and performance standards.
HB 46 calls for a license fee of $125, hundreds less than the roughly $775 average fee for a license in the 16 states that now regulate interpreters.
HB 46 would expand the purview of a board that would now be named the Speech Hearing and Communication Services Board. Licensing would generate $12,500 a year in fees, but those fees would be funneled into the expenses incurred by the board, according to a bill analysis by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
Gov. Butch Otter, who vetoed Packer’s 2015 bill, has indicated he’d like to leave the door open to some kind of regulation. Officials with the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing as well as DisAbility Rights Idaho have in the past shown support for Packer’s efforts.
Missing, however, from the bill and any of the statements of support made by Packer and others is a single concrete example of why the state needs to be involved.
Indefensibly, as IFF’s analysis points out, “This bill makes a rare and valuable service a crime. Any interpreter not licensed after passage of this bill could be charged with a misdemeanor. Where individuals freely exchange sign language interpretation for money there are no victims. There is no need for this to be a crime.”
Fred Birnbaum, vice president of the Freedom Foundation, said HB 46 is unnecessary and punitive. “Sadly,” Birnbaum said, “this bill is part of a larger trend to overly license occupations in Idaho, largely to the benefit of those who use these powers to restrict competition."