A major reform bill in the Indiana General Assembly could soon boost job growth statewide by proactively requiring state agencies to answer one pressing question: Why do Hoosiers have to ask for government permission to do their jobs?

Indiana’s licensing requirements are extremely burdensome on many lower-income workers. For example, sign language interpreters face steep burdens of more than four years of education, two exams, and $725 in fees for a required license. By contrast, most states — including neighboring Michigan and Ohio — impose no license at all. Even more bizarrely, it is more difficult for a Hoosier to give manicures legally than to save lives as an emergency medical technician. EMTs need only 160 hours of education for a license, while the Indiana government requires manicurists to have 450 hours. But EMTs don’t need more government-mandated training; manicurists need less.

Occupational licensing is one of the biggest economic issues affecting the modern job market. The Institute for Justice’s recent report, “License to Work,” ranks Indiana as the 26th most broadly and onerously licensed state — worse than Michigan, Wisconsin and even Illinois. According to the Brookings Institution, more than one in four Hoosiers needs government permission, through licensing or certification, to work legally. By comparison, only one in 20 American workers needed government-issued licenses in the 1950s. The Heritage Foundation estimates these higher licensing regulations cost the average Indiana household nearly $600 every year.

Indiana can do better for Hoosiers with much less restrictive regulatory alternatives.

Senate Bill 399 would require policymakers to review requirements and costs of regulations on workers in licensed occupations to ensure rules protect consumers, instead of special interests. Sponsored by Sens. Travis Holdman and Eric Koch, the bill would also require Indiana’s small business ombudsman to reject or modify new or renewable occupational regulations that unfairly harm job opportunities and industry competition.

Before regulating an occupation, there should be demonstrable, widespread evidence of public harm. If there is, regulators should use the least restrictive means to protect public health and safety inspections. Wisely, SB 399 offers regulators targeted options, ranging from market competition and consumer-created reviews (like Yelp) to voluntary certification. Only if all these options fail should lawmakers use the most onerous regulation: occupational licensing.

This critical shift would stop ever-growing regulatory burdens that function more as government favors to “bottleneckers” — special interests who use government power to reap monopoly profits and other benefits by limiting competition.

Support for genuine licensing reform like SB 399 is broad, substantial and growing. Bipartisan proponents include President Donald Trump’s Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, officials in the former Obama White House and the Federal Trade Commission’s acting chairman, who has served under the last two presidential administrations.

With SB 399, Indiana lawmakers have a critical opportunity to bolster the state’s economy. These reforms would ensure all hardworking Hoosiers have the opportunity to earn an honest living in their chosen occupation, regardless of background or income — and ensure consumers broader choice in the marketplace.

Lee McGrath is the Senior Legislative Counsel for the Institute for Justice and has advocated for licensing reforms and other economic liberty issues across the country. The opinion is the writer's.


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Porter/LaPorte County Editor

Porter/LaPorte Editor Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.