Everyone from plumbers to painters to barbers could have their licensing requirements weakened under two draft bills approved by West Virginia lawmakers Monday.
One bill would move licensing of building trades from the state Division of Labor to Chapter 30 boards, named for the chapter of state code where licensing boards are mentioned. The other bill would prohibit cities and counties from licensing, certifying or registering any occupations or professions.
At last week’s West Virginia Press Association’s Legislative Lookahead, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said there’s “significant interest” in the House of Delegates regarding revising occupational licensing laws — including potentially eliminating licensing requirements for multiple occupations.
“We’re actively engaged now in asking which, if any, of those regulated professions should go away,” Hanshaw said Friday. “For which of those professions should West Virginians simply be able to hold out a shingle and offer their services in the communities?”
Eliminating occupational licensing requirements is a key agenda item for the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which contends that licensing is a serious obstacle preventing job-seekers from pursuing careers in those professions.
Last year, West Virginia lawmakers introduced bills in the Senate and House of Delegates to let workers do jobs without state licenses, as long as they tell consumers that they are practicing without licenses. The text of both bills was taken verbatim from a model ALEC bill, the Occupational Licensing Consumer Choice Act (House Bill 2697, Senate Bill 492).
Conversely, a 2015 study by the Obama administration found that licensed workers earn 10 percent to 15 percent more than their unlicensed counterparts.
The study found that licensing raises prices for goods and services by 3 percent to 16 percent, but found that licensing improves quality, protects the public from incompetent practitioners and allows consumers to bring complaints before occupational licensing boards.
There were some objections to the draft bills Monday, particularly on moving licensing of building trades away from the Division of Labor.
Labor Commissioner Mitchell Woodrum told legislators that contractor license fees bring in about $1.6 million of the division’s $4.2 million annual operating budget, and help pay the salaries of 17 field inspectors, who verify that workers on construction sites are licensed, among other duties.
“There’s definitely an issue, if we cannot do that enforcement,” he said.
Asked if the division had input in drafting the bill, Woodrum said, “No.”
Under the draft legislation, Chapter 30 boards could contract with the Division of Labor or outside contractors to conduct those inspections.
“I don’t think we should vote this draft legislation out,” said Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, a retired United Mine Workers union official. “I don’t think there was much thought put into this.”
Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Brooke, said of the Division of Labor inspectors, “I have 40 years in the building trades, and I know what these people do, how they look out to protect us.”
There were also questions about the draft legislation to prohibit local governments from taking over presumably eliminated state requirements for licensing, certifying, or registering any occupations or professions.
Cities and counties could still issue building permits, and similar licenses for construction projects under the draft bill.
Meanwhile, a third draft bill advanced Monday would divide the more than 30 Chapter 30 licensing boards into three broad categories:
- Medical profession licensing boards.
- Boards for professions requiring a four-year college degree or higher.
- Boards for occupations that do not require a four-year degree.
The draft bills will be introduced during the regular session, which begins Wednesday.