Removing occupational licensing barriers to help with coronavirus response

By Aaron Rice
March 19, 2020

Occupational licensing laws have long stood as a barrier to entry for many, while limiting consumer choices for all. As the COVID-19 virus spreads, both the federal government and various states have moved to ease overburdensome regulations. 

The Mississippi Board of Medical Licensure lifted telemedicine regulations that previously prevented out-of-state physicians and nurse practioners from utilizing telemedicine in Mississippi without securing a license to practice medicine in the state. Our emergency orders also allow out-of-state nurses to work in Mississippi.

A similar story is being told nationwide.

In Massachusetts, an order was issued to grant temporary licenses, within one day, to nurses holding out-of-state licenses who wish to come to Massachusetts to staff healthcare facilities. North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Maryland followed, allowing out-of-state doctors and nurses to receive temporary licenses. 

One state that won’t be issuing such an order is Arizona. Last year, they became the first state to grant universal recognition to out-of-state license holders in all licensed professions and occupations. Including doctors and nurses. Pennsylvania and Montana enacted similar reforms.

Bills were introduced in the state legislature this year to do the same thing. If you received a license in another state, you could work in Mississippi without jumping through red tape. That was the thought at least. The universal bills died without consideration earlier in the session, but a bill specifically for military families passed the House and Senate. 

Today, about 19 percent of Mississippians are in an occupation that requires a license. And this is particularly troubling in low and middle-income occupations. Mississippi currently licenses 66 of 102 lower-income occupations, as identified by Institute for Justice. 

On average, licensing for low and middle-income occupations in Mississippi requires an individual to complete 160 days of training, to pass two exams, and to pay $330 in fees. Those numbers will vary depending on the industry. For example, a shampooer must receive 1,500 clock hours of education. A fire alarm installer must pay over $1,000 in fees. 

The net result is a decrease in the number of people who can work. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that occupational licensing reduces labor supply by 17 to 27 percent.

In Mississippi, the Institute for Justice estimates that licensing has cost the state 13,000 jobs. That represents two Nissan plants that could be created by reducing our licensing burden, and it wouldn’t require a dime in taxpayer incentives. 

We are making it easier for doctors and, at least in other states, nurses, to practice because it is a good thing for all. We should take that mindset and expand to all occupations that the state currently licenses. Because when we emerge from the current crisis, our economy, and the jobs many of us occupy, will probably look different than they did prior to the virus. 

Now would be a good time to take a deep dive into those various licenses we require in Mississippi and determine if there are voluntary or non-regulatory options that would accomplish the same goals, while opening the doors to those who want to work.

Pre-Coronavirus spread, Mississippi's unemployment was among the highest in the country and our labor participation rate was among the lowest. We should be making it easier to work.


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