My law office walls do not include my diplomas and certificates. The West Virginia Bar does not require it. They are in a box somewhere. By law, I am required to post my real estate broker license, renewed each year with a $150 payment. My notary public commission sits in a desk drawer at the ready for vigilant citizens who demand proof of my status.
Lawyers, brokers and notaries all work by permission of state government under different and often complex regulatory schemes. These occupations are not alone in their rule-bound world. West Virginia has more than 36 licensing boards and commissions, according to a recent survey by the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.
Pennsylvania has 29. Ohio has 21.
The Cardinal Institute, together with the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation, compared the licensing regimes of these three states for 64 occupations to determine whether West Virginia has high barriers to enter into and remain in them.
The survey concluded that West Virginia has high barriers for 25 occupations, compared to Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Reform of occupational licensing recently is a hot topic around the country and, according to the Gazette-Mail, will take a front burner during the regular session of the West Virginia Legislature.
There is much to consider. The many boards and the rules and regulations of occupations have been created over the decades in response either to concern for public well-being or anti-competitive impulses, or a mix of both.
West Virginia has statutory boards and commissions for massage therapists, medical imagers, social workers, counselors, cosmetologists and sanitarians. They all have to pay for their licenses and, every one or two years, take more courses to keep them.
Exactly one year ago, I bravely called for the abolition of the West Virginia Board of Hearing Aid Dealers and Fitters, which, according to www.wvbhad.org, exists to “protect the hearing-impaired public by registering, licensing and regulating those who fit and sell hearing aids.”
My call either was not loud enough or lawmakers could not hear it. Perhaps they need to be fitted with sanctioned hearing aids bought from one of West Virginia’s registered, licensed and regulated hearing aid dealers, a list of whom can be found on the official website.
The board and its regulations impose high barriers for entry, even though a hearing aid can be bought from a website at a fraction of the historical cost. Do they merit continued existence? Someone needs to make the case.
I am sure that there is a positive side to maintaining the West Virginia Board of Hearing Aid Dealers and Fitters. But its public profile doesn’t exactly turn up the volume for it.
Its work is so critical to protecting the hearing impaired of West Virginia that the last meeting of its board was held nearly three years ago, on Jan. 17, 2017, at least according to its website.
The board’s work that day was preoccupied with fees to be paid to the board, including new ones:
“Consideration of instituting fees for testing and retesting,” the minutes note. The board unanimously instituted a schedule of four fees, including new ones. Then, the board discussed how to receive and provide “requests for information and what, if any, charge should be incurred.” Then, it voted to institute a charge of “up to $150” for providing requested information with the additional authority to impose “additional charges” for “special requests.”
West Virginia’s licensed hearing aid dealers and fitters seem to be a law-abiding, upstanding lot. The last complaint to the West Virginia Board of Hearing Aid Dealers and Fitters was filed in 2012 and resolved by “consent decree,” with an unspecified sanction against the licensee in 2013.
Perhaps the board and its regulations are so good there is little need for robust enforcement.
Generally, the Legislature should ask whether barriers to entry for occupations in West Virginia are too high in relation to the risks to the public that they are intended to reduce.
The West Virginia Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists maintains what seem to be high barriers for barbers, hair-dressers, aestheticians and manicurists. To become a West Virginia-licensed barber first requires 1,200 hours of courses and practicums, and then an examination. A cosmetologist must have 1,800 hours, and a nail technician must have 400 hours.
A law school curriculum, by the way, requires fewer than 100 hours of courses to earn a degree.
Is this tangle of rules and regulations due for a hair cut or a trim?
Lawmakers should consider whether each occupational board and its regulations are effective. Can it be reformed, or even abolished, without significant risk to the public?
What, for example, is the point to keeping the West Virginia Board of Acupuncture?