Florida Passes Major Occupational Licensing Reform But More Needs to Be Done
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Commentary

Florida Passes Major Occupational Licensing Reform But More Needs to Be Done

These reforms rightly deserve praise as a major step in the right direction, but there is still ample room for further licensing deregulation in Florida. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed the Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act into law. The legislation, HB 1193, is the most sweeping licensing reform in the state’s history, eliminating or reducing requirements for over 30 occupations. These reforms rightly deserve praise as a major step in the right direction, but there is still ample room for further licensing deregulation in Florida.

Occupational licenses are essentially government-issued permission slips to enter into regulated occupations. Over recent decades, the number of licensed occupations has expanded dramatically. While licensing was initially intended to ensure consumer safety, many commonly licensed occupations do not pose significant risks to health or safety. 

Rather than protect consumers, occupational licensing often serves as a form of anti-competitive protectionism for licensed workers. Burdensome licensing requirements like mandatory training, fees, and exams raise barriers to entry and limit competition in licensed occupations. As a result, licensing requirements inflate the wages of licensed workers and increase costs for consumers. 

Prior to recent reforms, Florida’s licensing requirements were ranked as the fifth-most burdensome in the nation. A recent study from the Institute for Justice estimated that Florida’s licensing laws cost the state over 129,000 jobs and up to $459.9 million annually.

The Occupational Freedom and Opportunity Act cuts red tape for thousands of workers and will significantly improve Florida’s standing relative to other states. Specifically, the new law eliminates licensing requirements for interior designers, hair braiders, hair wrappers, body wrappers, nail polishers, makeup artists, and boxing announcers and timekeepers. It also reduces training requirements for barbers and cosmetology occupations. 

While the law did not include universal recognition of all licenses issued by other states, it did create new pathways to license recognition for 11 occupations including barbers, cosmetologists, engineers, and construction contractors. The law further directs the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to identify additional opportunities for license reciprocity. 

As noted in a statement from the Institute for Justice, the law “repeals more occupational licensing laws than any licensing reform ever passed by any other state.” These reforms are substantial and should be recognized as such, but Florida lawmakers should continue to pursue further deregulatory efforts.

Beginning last year with Arizona, 11 states have passed, or are considering, legislation to allow universal license recognition. Universal recognition policies require state licensing boards to recognize licenses issued by other states, but the process isn’t automatic. Workers seeking license recognition are still required to submit applications to the respective licensing board and meet certain criteria. Typically, universal recognition laws require that applicants relocate to the state, pass background checks, pay fees, and have maintained licensure in another state for a minimum period of time. 

One common problem with universal license recognition is that many occupations aren’t licensed in every state. For example, Arizona requires opticians to be licensed but Texas does not. Consequently, opticians in Texas are not able to take advantage of Arizona’s universal recognition policy even if they’ve been working in Texas for years. Iowa recently became the first state to offer a solution to this problem by allowing work experience to count towards training requirements. 

Another area for further reform in Florida is licensing restrictions for people with criminal records. In many states, former criminal offenders are legally prohibited from receiving licensure or may be denied licensure based on vague ‘moral character’ requirements. In June of this year, the Institute for Justice released a report that compared state laws related to licensure of former offenders. Florida received a grade of D+ despite adopting related reforms in 2019. 

The 2019 reforms prohibit licensing boards from denying applications on the sole basis of the applicants’ criminal history and prevent boards from considering most offenses after five years. However, ‘forcible felonies’ including burglary and robbery are exempted from these reforms if licensing boards determine that an offense is ‘related’ to the practice of a profession. This allows boards substantial discretion in determining which offenses can be used to deny licensure. Licensing boards also may still consider an applicant’s criminal history when assessing their moral character. 

Additional occupational licensing reform efforts should eliminate moral character requirements and prevent boards from denying licensure based on applicants’ criminal records unless their prior offenses are ‘directly related’ to the occupation in question. Moreover, the burden of proof should fall on the licensing board to demonstrate that an applicant would pose a genuine threat to public safety before denying their application.  

Florida’s recent reforms are significant, and lawmakers deserve recognition for their efforts. However, it is important that Florida continues to reduce barriers to migration and expand economic opportunities by adopting universal license recognition and eliminating restrictions for former criminal offenders. 

Vittorio Nastasi

Vittorio Nastasi is a policy analyst at Reason Foundation where he works on Florida policy issues including education reform and water quality management.