Alabama has around 375 regulatory boards and agencies responsible for issuing licenses. The boards cover everything from electricians, to cosmetology, to interior designers.
These boards operate with the authority of state law and oversee maintaining licensing and regulatory standards in the state.
To many, these boards' occupational licensing and accreditation have harmful effects on state employment. Lawmakers attempting to lessen or remove specific requirements may find themselves combatting vigorous lobbying in the State House.
State Rep. Andrew Sorrell (R-Muscle Shoals) has a history of voting against renewing several state boards in the legislature.
Sorrell points out that hyper-regulation deters tradesmen and practitioners from plying their craft in the state, a sentiment the evidence bears out.
At the end of July, Alabama's labor force participation rate was 57.2%. The national average was 62.1%. Just four states are worse than Alabama.
According to a 2018 report from the Alabama Policy Institute and Troy University, Alabama ranked 47th in the country in terms of ease of complying with occupational licensing laws. It is estimated that licensing requirements costs the state almost 21,000 jobs annually.
Alabama also offers little to no reciprocity with other states, meaning the state does not accept out-of-state licensing.
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"Let's say you have a teacher moving in from another state like New York; they have to get certified in Alabama," Sorrell said. “Well, how stupid are we? We have the worst education in America, and then we require incoming teachers to get certified under our educational standards. It's bureaucracy, paperwork, and fees. And then, if you want to do something simple like cosmetology, you have to have a license for that. We create a license for everything."
During the 2022 regular session, Sorrell introduced legislation to remove a requirement from the state Cosmetology Board that required a degree in cosmetology to perform hair braiding.
"We're not talking about cutting hair, dying it, using chemicals, or styling; we literally were just striking the requirement to have a license to twist hair," Sorrell said.
Sorrell's bill was struck down by the Agencies, Boards, and Commissions Committee with a 4-2 vote.
According to statute, the legislature must renew the bills that create and certify these boards and state agencies, usually every four years, a process called sunsetting. These sunset bills allow the legislature to decide to either continue a state agency or disband it. Sorrell claims that, rather than seeing occupational licensing diminish in the state, you often see bills attempting to increase licensing fees and requirements.
"Everybody just automatically renews them; I don't ever remember us not renewing something, saying 'oh, maybe we don't need this anymore,'" Sorrell said.
Most see certain agencies as necessary in fields like nursing, electric work, plumbing, etc. However, others see many agencies as gratuitous entities meant to be gatekeepers who monopolize various trades in the state.
State Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) told 1819 News of an incident within his district that highlights issues with state agencies that need to be addressed.
In Decatur, the Board of General Contractors sent a letter to the city after it had hired a lawn care company that was not licensed by the board. The board claimed that, since the lawn care company had no contracting license, they could not do lawn care for the city.
"They sent a letter to the ones who bid on the contract and said, 'Hey, you don't have a contractor license, you can't do this,'" Orr said. "Now, wait a minute. When did we give the contractor board the authority to regulate lawn care? And they would say, 'Oh, there's a contract for this service, so we get to regulate it.' Well, I say hooey on that. That's just nonsense."
According to Orr, a business licensed with the Contractor Board was outbid on the project, which led them to contact the board to ensure the lower bidding companies were not given the contract.
According to Herman Marks, the City Attorney for Decatur, after the Contractor Board contacted the city, they ensured the original company received the proper licensing to do business with the city.
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