August 22, 2019 10:27:05 AM
In a federal lawsuit filed by the Mississippi Justice Institute, former MUW student Dipa Bhattarai claims she had to close her two eyebrow threading businesses in Columbus and Starkville because the state's cosmetology board required her to take 600 hours of classes to obtain a license it required.
Bhattarai's position is reasonable: The required training contains little associated with the work she performs, which is non-invasive and does not require chemicals. The suit claims the cosmetology board's licensing requirements are unconstitutional and that they infringe on her economic liberties.
That this had to come to a lawsuit is unfortunate. A fair solution would have been for the cosmetology board to alter the requirements for the service Bhattarai offered.
The state issues seven different cosmetology licenses but not one for eyebrow threading. Another solution would be for the board to establish a license for that service.
Instead, the matter is in federal court.
There is a bigger issue in play here, though, one that could potentially affect all of us.
If successful, the decision could be used as a wedge to drive public opinion against state licensing for a wide and diverse range of services provided the public.
Admittedly, not all licensing requirements are put into place in the interest of consumers. Existing businesses sometimes lobby under the guise of "looking out for the consumer" to make licensing in their industry more difficult. Often, the actual goal is to build barriers to discourage competition or to produce artificial scarcity to drive up prices.
But that's not always the case. The ultimate goal of professional licenses is to ensure service providers have at least a basic understanding of the operational, legal, health and ethical implications of their business. They also require individuals to prove they have received an education on the service they wish to perform.
Accountants, architects, pharmacists, real estate agents, tattoo arts are examples of the more than 40 professions that require licensing in our state. The government should not only have the right to implement reasonable licensing requirements for these professions, it has an obligation to do so.
The requirements should be reasonable though.
In 2017 the state established a licensing review board, but that board only provides oversight of new or changing regulations. It doesn't review existing licensing requirements, and those licensing requirements usually don't have a sunset clause so they continue in perpetuity unless the legislature acts or a lawsuit against them is successful.
The state needs a mechanism to provide periodic, objective, reasonable review of existing licensing requirements.
State-based licensing boards should absolutely maintain the vital role of ensuring service professionals have a basic proficiency in their line of work. And while we find merit in Bhattarai's case, we hope any success in that lawsuit won't lead to the wholesale deconstruction of professional licensing.
To cast off all government oversight is a dangerous business. Market forces and competition are not enough to ensure public safety. There must be accountability, and that accountability should emanate from our government institutions.
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