Bill targeting occupational licenses takes a new twist

    Hair stylist at work
    Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

    Three weeks ago, Assembly lawmakers were debating whether the state should move more cautiously before imposing new licensing requirements for certain jobs.

    On Thursday, the same bill passed out of committee with a major rewrite that would appear to all but block new occupational licenses altogether.

    The Assembly Committee on Regulatory and Licensing Reform advanced AB-605 to the full Assembly, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed.

    In its original form, the measure would have required that any proposals to require new licenses for occupations would be subject to a so-called ‘sunrise report.’ That means evaluations, first, on whether licensing for the occupation was necessary to protect the public, and, second, on the relative costs and benefits of requiring the license.

    State occupational licensing requirements have been targeted in recent years by several free-market and libertarian organizations, who contend they wind up killing jobs needlessly. Critics from hair stylists to skilled construction trades workers have questioned whether the campaign against occupational licensing is intended to undercut professional wages while disregarding consumer safety.

    Even in its original form the proposal sparked skepticism from critics on the committee, chief among them Rep. Jonathon Brostoff (D-Milwaukee), who suggested that ignoring licensing proposals would risk subjecting consumers to preventable hazards.

    At the bill’s Jan. 8 public hearing, State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R- Delafield), a cosponsor, mentioned plans to amend it to assign the job of evaluating licensing proposals to the Legislative Audit Bureau instead of the Department of Safety and Professional Services.

    But the amendment from State Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) that dropped on Monday had another, much bigger change: It sets a 270-day window for the bureau to conduct its investigation, and forbids lawmakers from holding a hearing or a vote on the proposal before that process is complete.

    “This could result in licensing bills introduced partway through a legislative session timing out should the session adjourn before a ‘sunrise report’ is completed,” Brostoff said in a statement hours after Thursday’s vote. “The amendment keeps most of the worst parts of the original bill, and then cedes even more control over the legislative process for licensing bills to unelected bureaucrats.” The result, he warned, could undermine occupational licensing procedures in the state.

    “The bill as originally drafted was an absolute mess,” Brostoff stated. The amendment “somehow makes the bill even worse.”

    The Wisconsin Examiner sought comment from Hutton and Kapenga, authors of the Assembly and Senate versions of the bill respectively. Neither lawmaker had contacted the Examiner by late Friday evening in response.

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.