It appears that California truly has gone to the dogs. The state is facing a $9.2 billion budget deficit, a $10 billion unemployment insurance fund deficit, and unfunded pension obligations in the range of $400 billion to $500 billion, yet the busybodies in the state Legislature are seeking to add another occupation to the long list of those burdened by unnecessary state regulation: pet grooming.
The new bill, SB 969, proposed by state Sen. Juan Vargas, D-San Diego, would establish licensing standards for dog groomers and dog grooming schools under the Veterinary Medical Board. Violations of the regulations could result in fines of $500 to $2,000 and/or imprisonment of 30 days to a year in jail.
The bill would establish minimum age and education requirements for potential licensees (18 years old and at least a 10th-grade education), impose licensing fees and charge the licensing board with developing standardized written and practical demonstration tests for applicants. In addition, it would require an inspection of every licensed pet groomer in the state each year and mandate that licensees maintain detailed records for two years (“including a list of any chemicals used while performing the services and any medical conditions discovered during the performance of services”). Moreover, the legislation has drawn criticism from groomers because it would also force them to individually cage animals that would be calmer if they were not confined.
While we love our pets dearly and want to protect them from harm, mandatory state licensing is not the answer. As numerous economics studies of a wide variety of professions have demonstrated, licensing rarely leads to improved service quality, and oftentimes results in worse quality. While this might sound counterintuitive, there are several reasons for this.
The one-size-fits-all regulations imposed by the state may be arbitrary (not necessarily an accurate measure of groomer competence) and give consumers a false sense of security about the competency of licensed groomers, causing them to be less cautious about whom they do business with than they otherwise might be. In addition, licensing fees and regulations restrict competition by making it more difficult for people – even those who would be skilled groomers – from entering the business.
Less competition means less pressure to offer the best services and the lowest prices. The higher prices that would result from licensing would cause many people to resort to do-it-yourself grooming, which may result in more pain to pets since the owners are not trained to do this. For the same reason, there are more electrocutions where there are stricter licensing regulations for electricians and poorer dental health where dental licensing requirements are overly stringent.
Occupational licensing violates the freedom to work in the occupation of one’s choosing. The state has no right to dictate who can become a pet groomer or own a pet grooming school. Since licensing fees and stricter regulations will price some otherwise good groomers out of the market, licensing would reduce employment and deny even skilled workers opportunities to improve their lives and work in the profession of their choice.
Some may still cry, “There ought to be a law!” but groomers who harm pets can already be prosecuted under laws against negligence and fraud, as with any other case of poor service or breach of contract. This does not mean that there are, or should be, no standards for groomer competence. Voluntary (private) certification allows practitioners who meet the criteria of a certification organization to advertise their certification to signify to customers that they offer high-quality services, while leaving consumers and noncertified practitioners free to do business if they so choose. Pet grooming organizations such as the National Dog Groomers Association of America, National Cat Groomers Institute of America, International Professional Groomers and International Society of Canine Cosmetologists have their own testing and other certification requirements and offer workshops, seminars and other events to provide groomers and consumers more information about their members’ qualifications. The use of referrals from veterinarians or friends and resources such as Yelp, Angie’s List, and the Better Business Bureau may also help to avoid many poor groomers in the first place.
California already consistently places at or near the bottom of rankings of state business climates due to its high taxes and burdensome regulations. As I noted in a 2007 study, “Occupational Licensing: Ranking the States and Exploring Alternatives,” California already “leads” the nation by requiring licenses for some 177 occupations, almost double the national average. Particularly during such a difficult economic climate, we should be encouraging employment opportunity and entrepreneurship, not deterring them. Governments should, thus, look to remove economic barriers, not erect or maintain them through licensing laws.
Adam Summers is a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation. This column originally appeared in the San Diego Union-Tribune.