New bills would make it easier for Wisconsinites to work

Senate committee passes two licensing reform bills

By Julie Grace for the Badger Institute

Wisconsin took a step toward expanding worker freedom Wednesday when a Senate committee passed two bills that would make it easier for workers to seek and practice their desired professions.

The state places numerous restrictions – many unnecessary or arbitrary – on individuals who work in licensed professions (a fifth of its workforce) and on those who aspire to work in these fields. These bills, if passed by the full Legislature before the end of session, are small yet positive steps towards making it easier for Wisconsinites to simply do their jobs or start a career in a new profession.

Senate Bill 541 would implement a “sunrise review” for all proposed occupational licenses in the state. The goal is to improve the likelihood that new occupational licenses would only be used for their intended purpose: protecting public safety. It’s a concept that may seem straightforward, but too often licenses are created for occupations that pose little risk or harm to consumers.

Very few occupational licenses are created as the result of consumers demanding the state protect them from irresponsible or dangerous practices within a field. What typically happens is that professionals and associations themselves lobby officials to create a license that gives existing practitioners a great deal of power over prices, competition and regulations.

The sunrise bill would create some space between the self-interested parties lobbying for a new license and the policymakers they seek to influence. Under this bill, the Legislative Audit Bureau would review all proposed licenses and recommend the proper (and least restrictive) form of regulation based on the level of risk or harm to consumers. The Legislature would then use this unbiased assessment to decide whether or not to license a profession. If they decide that a license is unnecessary, they can consider whether less burdensome forms of regulation would be more appropriate.

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 654 would make it easier for military members, their spouses and former military members to gain work when they move to Wisconsin. It’s another idea that, again, seems straightforward. But too often, that’s not the case.

More than 70 percent of military spouses who work in licensed professions have to get their licenses renewed or reissued upon moving to a new state. Since military families frequently cross state lines, this process is difficult, burdensome and time-consuming for too many military families. It also makes little sense if they’ve already obtained a license and worked in the same profession, just in another state. 

While Wisconsin currently allows 180 days reciprocity for military spouses, this bill would grant permanent reciprocity to military members, their spouses and former military members, allowing them to get to work more quickly.

Unfortunately, these issues are often unseen until someone faces a roadblock – like high fees, education requirements or hours of experience – to entering (or re-entering) a desired field.

State government now requires one million Wisconsinites to get permission before they can work in their chosen fields. While these two bills don’t directly address the explosion of licenses that’s taken place over the last few decades, they do inject some common sense reforms that can bring focus to the process and help lessen the burden on some who feel its impact.

Julie Grace is a Badger Institute Policy Analyst. Reposted with permission.