Dems Attempt to Mobilize Lobbyists Against Licensing Reform

A pair of Democratic state lawmakers is urging lobbyists to fight professional licensing reform. Representative Jonathan Brostoff and Senator LaTonya Johnson sent out this email to lobbyists, obtained by Media Trackers:

Current initiatives in Wisconsin could have a detrimental impact on an industry you lobby for and the integrity of the work done under the name of this profession.


As the ranking Democrats on the legislature’s licensing committees, we knew it was our responsibility to reach out to you and other industry leaders to alert you to these efforts in case you were not already aware.


Recently Senators Kapenga and Darling, with Representatives Hutton and Kooyenga, introduced Senate Bill 288/Assembly Bill 369, legislation to replace the section removed from the State Budget on licensing reform. This drastic reform includes the elimination of numerous credentialing and examining boards and councils. As a dedicated lobbyist in the field of ______, we feel that this proposal is directly relevant to your work.


This attack on professional licensing is a coordinated effort by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) and Americans for Prosperity, two well-funded groups dedicated to deregulating important Wisconsin professions. WILL recently escalated their attack on licensing with the 2016 report, “Fencing Out Opportunity.”


We strongly believe that this attack on licensing would create additional barriers for consumers and business owners who seek to employ qualified professionals, while undermining the value and importance of previously earned licenses gained through hard work and practical experience. Further, if this bill is to pass, workers in the profession for which you advocate may find access to industry leaders, and their invaluable breadth of knowledge and experience, limited by the elimination of current educational requirements.


We urge you to share this email with your industry colleagues, and voice your opinion on this legislation to the members of the relevant Assembly and Senate committees, who are listed below for your convenience, as well as to your elected officials directly.


Thank you for your committed advocacy for such highly valued professions. Senator Johnson and I will continue to work with the other members of the Wisconsin State Legislature to protect the safety and well being of Wisconsin consumers by ensuring they are served by trained, licensed professionals.  If you would like to discuss this complex issue further, please feel free to contact us.


In service,

Jonathan Brostoff                               LaTonya Johnson

State Representative                           State Senator

19th Assembly District                       6th Senate District

In fact, the WILL study referenced by Brostoff and Johnson found that Wisconsin licensing regulations had become onerous and counterproductive:

According to some estimates, between 25% and 30% of American workers require a license to do their job. In Wisconsin, hundreds of professions and hundreds of thousands of workers are required to jump through costly government mandated hoops to earn the right to work. Licenses are required for massage therapists, cosmetologists and barbers, dance therapists, contractors, and even sign language interpreters. This growth of licensing, particularly among professions with little public health or safety value, caused economist Adam Smith to label occupational licensing “a conspiracy against the public” to raise prices and restrain competition.


  1. The State of Wisconsin requires hundreds of different government credentials for hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites who simply want to work. They range from pharmacists, dentists, and physicians to auctioneers, dance therapists, interior designers, and sign language interpreters just to name a few. Wisconsin also places burdensome requirements on many low and moderate income jobs like barbers, cosmetologists, and manicurists.
  2. The problem is getting worse. The number of traditionally licensed credential holders at the Department of Safety and Professional Services (and the former Department of Regulation and Licensing) has grown from 275,000 in 1996 to 370,000 in 2016 – a 34% increase in the last 20 years. Also, from 1996 to 2016, the number of license types has grown from 90 to 166 – an 84% increase in the last 20 years.
  3. This growth in both licenses and licensees in Wisconsin has far outpaced the growth in population, labor force, and employment in Wisconsin.
  4. A “back of the envelope” formula estimates that licensing under the jurisdiction of the Department of Safety and Public Services (DSPS) results in 31,634 fewer jobs and approximately $1.93 billion per year in consumer costs.
  5. Reforming occupational licensing is a bipartisan issue. Advocates for reform include conservatives who favor a free market and progressives concerned about the poor, the Obama Administration and the Koch Brothers, as well as Democrat and Republican legislators and governors around the country – and Wisconsin.
  6. Other states, including those in the Midwest, have proposed big, bold reforms such as deregulation of various professions and the creation of review commissions to evaluate the necessity of various licenses and regulations. With all of this reform momentum, Wisconsin is threatened with being left behind.

State Representative Andre Jacque, one of the Republican lawmakers targeted by the email, told Media Trackers:

It makes sense for Wisconsin to evaluate its existing licensing regulations to ensure they appropriately address public safety and consumer protection, as well as not unnecessarily burdening consumer choice or the practice of qualified individuals.  There has been significant bi-partisan support for regulatory licensing reform, though my colleagues’ attack on WILL and AFP has a predictably partisan flavor to it.  


I respect both of my colleagues who sent the letter.  Unfortunately, the letter’s hyperbole seeks to cast aspersions on the work done by many to ensure that those capable of doing professional quality work within their field, including many in Rep. Brostoff’s and Sen. Johnson’s districts, are not unduly hampered by state government in their efforts to do so.  This could cause needlessly negative and politically charged legislative conversations, when the focus of legislators should be on talking with and getting to know people in their districts within professions being discussed by their committees.  


While lobbyists play a role in providing information within the political process, I would much rather have citizens and members of a regulated profession provide direction to legislators or industry lobbyists than see legislators trying to scare, alarm or manipulate lobbyists into panicking their groups’ members and the general public (which is fairly evident when legislators are telling lobbyists what they think they should do).  It’s written very much like an over-the-top fundraising email/direct mail letter- which would be illegal to send to lobbyists right now under Wisconsin law- without the ask for contributions.

Two important purposes of governmental occupational licensing is to protect the public and raise the standards for regulated professions. It, of course, also generates revenue. But the WILL study found that it serves a fourth purpose: protecting members of a profession from competition and raising prices for the customer. Existing practitioners are often grandfathered in when a new license is created. The WILL study found that the requirements to become licensed in various professions often create barrier to market entry for others.

For example, the WILL study found the following training requirements for licenses in various professions:

Profession                   Training

Basic EMT                   180 hrs

Manicurist                   300 hrs

Massage Therapist     600 hrs

Barber                           1,000 hrs

Cosmetologist              1,550 hrs

WILL study authors Collin Roth and Elena Ramlow argue that if safety was the primary function of professional licensing, the list would be inverted.  And a follow-up study by WILL in Spring 2017  examined the impact licensing has on employment in specific professions:

“This new study provides critical evidence that when states enact burdensome occupational licensing  laws, it serves to hurt employment,” said Collin Roth, Research Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. “Policymakers must now consider if the current protections that licensing provides are worth the price in lower employment.”

In May, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute told the story of  Albert Walker, a Green Bay barber who cuts hair for Green Bay Packers players, past and present. Walker has two decades experience cutting hair and a barber’s license that required 1,000 hours of training in a school licensed by the state. Yet, Walker cannot legally open his shop to the public:

He’s missing one thing: a state barbering manager’s license. Walker says he can’t afford the tuition for the manager’s classes, which can run as high as $20,000. State law allows a barbering manager applicant with 2,000 hours of licensed practice to forgo the required 150 hours of instruction, but in exchange, he or she must work 4,000 hours under the supervision of a licensed manager — an unnecessary, impractical and nearly impossible hurdle. Walker likely has put in tens of thousands of hours behind the chair, but most of those hours don’t count for licensing purposes.

Walker essentially cuts hair for free but tells “customers” he can take tips. He found both his professional skills and religion behind bars. But state licensing regulations are keeping him from fulfilling his dream of running his own shop. Walker is the virtual poster child for the licensing reform Democrats want to stifle.

This post has been updated.