A Terrible Idea for Electrical Licensing ? Or Is It?
As regular readers of this blog may recall, I loathe occupational licensing. In the vast majority of cases, it is nothing more than using the government to block competition, usually under the catch-all guise of "safety." I was pleased that I had not seen any legislation creating new licensing systems before our current legislative session, but that changed today when I came across Senate Bill 1093. So I am supposed to hate this bill, right? Well, yes, but a careful reading of it at least made me realize there are two sides to this story.
A couple of key points jumped out at me. First of all, it is sponsored by Senator Loudon, who is a true free-market guy, so I had to wonder why he was proposing this. Second, as you read it, you see that the suggested state licensing board will include reps from the Independent Electrical Contractors, or IEC, who are the non-union guys and whom I would not normally expect to be pushing licensing. Further reading and research, by moi, makes it clear that this is an attempt to normalize electrical licensing rules across the state by the IEC, and trump the current union-favoring local systems established in some of our larger counties. The bill is clear that the statewide license would have to be allowed in any county, or city, in Missouri. Local governments could still continue their own local licensing, but they would have to allow someone with a state license to work even if they don’t have the local license. It is also important to note that non-licensed electrical contractors could still work in counties that do not require a local license. So if you are an electrician who lives and works in a rural county with no licensing, this would really not affect you.
I fully understand that the licensing systems in many of our larger counties are set up to favor union members and union contractors. This bill is really about politics and fairness, not about the economics of licensing systems. I would prefer that its supporters change the local, unfair rules before they take licensing statewide, but I am sure they would respond that they have tried that and failed. I recognize that the current political situation in many of those larger counties is not going to change, as the irrigation contractors found out in 2006 when they attempted a very minor, and perfectly reasonable, change to the St. Louis County plumbing code as it related to backflow prevention devices.
I am not going to sit here and write that I support this proposed law, or believe it to be a good idea. However, I know the frustration many non-union contractors have with the biased systems in place in many of the larger counties. To that end, I understand why they are attempting this change and I sympathize with their goals. If I may mix my metaphors, it’s like they want two bites at the apple, and to eat it too. With this bill, we would have more statewide licensing for electrical contractors, but the licensing would be more level and fair. Since this is one profession where I understand some manner of licensing may be needed, perhaps wide and level is better than limited and biased? But probably not …