A free market expert warned Tuesday a bill to license sign language interpreters will hurt the vulnerable residents state lawmakers say they want to protect.
“Licensing, by definition, is designed to keep people out of occupations,” said Dick Komer, a senior attorney for the Institute for Justice. “It’s one of those rare public policies that does exactly what it’s intended to do.”
Members of the House Health and Welfare Committee gave initial approval to the sign language licensure bill Tuesday, setting it up for in-depth discussion within days. Rep. Kelley Packer, R-McCammon, told colleagues the bill will help deaf Idahoans, who need reliable interpreting services on a regular basis.
“Our state has never had a quality control in place for this critical component,” Packer said.
But Komer said the market can self-regulate, or the state can take less-restrictive options.
“There might be a role for protecting public health and safety for this population, but it doesn’t necessarily require a license,” Komer said.
Komer said Idaho legislators should look at a certification program, or allow the industry to develop its own standards and rules. Avoiding the full license, he said, would keep costs down.
Only 16 states require interpreter licenses. Nevada, Idaho’s neighbor to the southwest, is the closest state with those regulations.
Those who violate licensing requirements could face up to a $5,000 fine and a misdemeanor charge.
The Institute for Justice serves as a watchdog for government issues and produced a licensure study report in 2012. That document suggested licensure benefits aren’t what many would have policymakers believe.
“There’s little to no evidence that it improves health and safety,” Komer said.
He also suggested licensure will place barriers to entry in the sign language field, which will limit consumers’ options.
“Licensure restricts the number of employment opportunities,” he warned.
Additionally, those who do enter the field and obtain a license will pass those extra costs onto consumers, making obtaining services just that much more difficult.