Florida Leads Way on Commonsense Occupational Licensing Reform

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Who says that legislatures can’t pass statutes that benefit the public, rather than cronies or special-interest favorites?

(Well, I do regularly, but elected officials actually did something good here, so cut me some slack and read on.)

On Tuesday, the Florida Legislature passed a bill, House Bill 735, that makes it easier for ordinary Floridians to work without a local license in a host of categories for which no reasonable person would think that a license should even be necessary. 

HB 735 frees a host of laborers to pursue what would ordinarily be deemed “handyman jobs” without first satisfying local licensing requirements in every county where they might find work. 

Among the jobs from which they are now “free at last” are the following: painting; flooring; cabinetry; interior remodeling; driveway installation; decorative stone, tile, marble, granite, or terrazzo installation; plastering; stuccoing; caulking; canvas awning and ornamental-iron installation, as well as a category helpfully described as “handyman services.”

As a result of this legislation, average people in Florida will now be able to perform the type of manual labor that each of us could do if we had a little knowledge about the task, a little experience in doing it, or a little more time to stumble through the process and learn by doing—in other words, the sort of skills we (well, everyone but me) might acquire by watching the TV show-within-a-show “Tool Time” on “Home Improvement.”

Licensing requirements are defended on the ground that the government needs to protect consumers against charlatans by setting minimum qualifications to offer a service. The public, therefore, can select from approved providers without needing to investigate or take a chance on their bona fides and relative qualifications. At least that’s the rationale.

Occupational licensing laws once were relatively scarce, but now are like political office-seekers at the outset of a new presidential administration: They’re everywhere, but few of them are worth anything.

Yes, it makes sense to ensure that only qualified people can diagnose disease, prescribe medication, or perform surgery. But arrange flowers? Decorate interiors? Paint? Do yard work? Tell fortunes? Puh-leeze!

And if you really think that legislators impose licensing requirements because they benefit the public, you’d better hope that you’re not due for drug testing anytime soon.

Legislators adopt those requirements at the behest of incumbents who don’t want competition from outsiders who might charge less for the same services. Elected officials go along to amass votes and contributions. It’s a beautiful friendship.

Florida has now apparently decided that enough’s enough. If Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signs the bill, a large number of average, everyday people—the type that I would affectionately label “little people”—will benefit from the legislation. The bill will help them, not Fortune 500 CEOs. (Be still my heart.)

Laborers don’t need to take a class on “The Metaphysics of Painting” and pay a potentially hefty fee—in every separate county in the state—before covering the outside of your home with whitewash.

Won’t localities simply reimpose licensing requirements on those lines of work once the state legislative term ends? No. The state legislature foresaw and prevented that possibility.

After all, who knows better how to keep a legislative body from engaging in shenanigans than another legislative body? HB 735 bars cities and counties from readopting their existing requirements or adding new ones that are not materially different from the ones that will have now been ditched.

Before you start singing the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah,” remember this: Florida’s HB 735 is but a minor reform of one state’s occupational licensing laws. It did not eliminate all unnecessary licensing requirements in the state.

A far more widespread occupational licensing reform bill would be necessary for that trick, in Florida and elsewhere. So, there’s no reason to pop the champagne corks yet.

But let’s also not discount what happened in Florida. It’s been said that “a journey of a million miles begins with a single step.” Of course, that step must be in the right direction, and this one is. Maybe there will be another one to follow. At least occupational licensing reform is on the Legislature’s radar, or so we can hope.

If we criticize legislators when they disserve the public interest, we should applaud them when they actually make life better for people. That happened here.

The Florida Legislature helped out laborers by lifting off their shoulders a needless, expensive, and repetitive burden. That’s especially noteworthy, because day laborers don’t make very much from their labors and therefore can’t contribute to politicians’ coffers.

Florida’s legislators deserve our thanks.  They have mine.

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email [email protected] and we will consider publishing your remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. 

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