The Mississippi House of Representatives has passed a raft of bills designed to reduce the licensing burden and make it easier for people to work.
Not everyone agrees with the need to deregulate some of these professions, such as art therapists.
House Bill 1315 would eliminate licensing requirements for art therapists, auctioneers, interior designers and wigologists and was sponsored by House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton. It passed 72-38 and has been sent to the Senate.
The president of Empower Mississippi, Russ Latino, says many of these regulations are designed to prevent competition under the guise of protecting consumers.
“You might say well what is the risk of someone decorating a house without having a license,” Latino said. “Now, the house might end up, ugly, you might get shag carpeting that’s green or throw pillows that don't match your taste, but no one was harmed in the making of that house.
“And so that's an example of something where an industry kind of came together to try and create a reduction in supply. You know, prevent competition and drive up their own prices. That's the other thing that gets missed out on a lot. It's not just about how easy is it for people to go to work. It's how expensive is it for people to live because for every profession you license. There are all kinds of costs built into that. And those costs ultimately get passed on to consumers.”
Art therapists disagree with the need for their field to be de-regulated.
Susan Anand was the state’s first art therapist and after receiving her bachelor’s in fine arts from Indiana University and a master’s in art therapy from New York University, relocated back to Mississippi.
She now works at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and she says that jobs will be lost if HB 1315 becomes law because a license is required to practice a mental health profession in the state. She and other art therapists work with not only those with mental illness, but cancer patients and even veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as well.
The profession is regulated out of the state Department of Health and is advised by volunteer art therapists selected by the department at what Anand calls a minimum cost to the state.
Unlike with the Cosmetology Board and the state Board of Massage Therapy, which have separate offices, staffs, inspectors and reams of regulation, the art therapists have simple licensing requirements that include passing the national board exam and registering with the board.
Eliminating the licensing requirement, Anand said, would require art therapists to go through other licensing regimes such as the one for professional counseling that would require additional expense and education.
“Most mental health agencies require a state license in order to practice,” Anand said. “You have to have a way to recognize this profession as distinct and a way to establish the standards that need to be there so people can recognize a licensed, professional art therapist that has the qualifications they need for art therapy services for their child or themselves.”
There are other bills that would change the way the state issues occupational licenses.
Another bill, HB 1303, would allow nurse practitioners to work on their own without a collaborative agreement with a supervising physician after 3,600 hours of practice. The bill passed by a 78-38 margin.
Also related is HB 1263, which would provide for recognition of occupational licenses from other states if applicants moving to Mississippi have their licenses in good standing and have not been disciplined. The bill was authored by state Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven and passed the House unanimously. The bill is modeled on similar legislation passed in Arizona and Iowa.
“So certainly, by granting universal recognition professionals who want to move into Mississippi will no longer look at our current occupational licensing regime and think ‘well that's an impediment to me going and earning a living there,’” Latino said. “So that's a net positive, the ability to come here and on day one, be able to use your training, use your experience in a way that provides services to the people of Mississippi and simultaneously allows you to provide for your family is a huge net benefit.
“I think what's exciting is that Mississippi would be the first southern state to take this leap, and so it gives us a competitive advantage over surrounding states.”
With a shrinking population (shrinking by 0.1 percent according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau) in Mississippi while surrounding states such as Tennessee (eight percent), Arkansas (four percent growth), Alabama (three percent increase), Louisiana (up two percent), advocates of occupational licensing reform say that doing so will help arrest the state’s population loss.
There’s also the matter of labor force participation rate, which shows how much of a state’s population is actively working. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mississippi has the second worst labor force participation rate (55.4 percent) with only West Virginia being worse at 53.8 percent. The regional average is 61.9 percent.
Latino says reducing the barriers to entry for new workers and reducing the number of licensed occupations would help improve that number.
The non-profit law firm the Institute for Justice has released a report on low-income occupations licensed by states called License to Work and it gives Mississippi some poor scores when it comes to burdensome licensing requirements.
Mississippi is ranked fifth from the bottom in terms of the average burden in licensing requirements, but 18th best in the combined number of occupations licensed and the average burden of licensing requirements.
The Mississippi Board of Cosmetology regulates wigologists (who manufacture and sell wigs), which are required to have 1,500 hours over a period of no less than nine months in a licensed school of cosmetology and pass an examination.
Interior designers are required to have degree in interior design and pass an examination. Every year, certification holders have to pay a $75 fee and complete 10 continuing education credits.
Auctioneers are required attend a certified school and pass an exam that costs $100 to take and pay $200 for renewal every two years.
Mississippi is only one of four states that licenses interior designers, whereas 33 states regulate the field of auctioneering.
One problem with these occupational licensing boards and commissions is that public funds can be misused or even the subject of fraud absent constant supervision by the board or commission.
For the Mississippi Auctioneer Commission, the report released in 2018 by the state auditor’s office covered fiscal years 2015 through 2017 and found questionable expenses over a two-year period.
Investigators found excessive amounts of reimbursement for travel ($38,000 over a three-year period) and other expenses. They also criticized the commission for not exercising proper supervision of their lone employee, former MAC executive director Kam Remsen. The report alleges that Remsen was reimbursed for travel expenses during the same time she advertised to be able to meet with clients for her personal business. Investigators also found several purchases with state funds to be of a personal nature.