Overly Restrictive Occupational Licensing Inhibits Texas Growth

Last year, Texas was ranked with the 17th highest burden occupational licensing imposes on the workforce. A full one-third of low-income occupations in Texas are licensed.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime have long alerted policymakers to the inherent issues with overusing occupational licensing. This practice inhibits economic growth, restricts employment, and can serve as a form of economic protectionism.

In fact, studies have pointed to billions in losses each year attributable to occupational licensing and the lower rates of employment in licensed professions as compared to unlicensed professions.

Occupational licensing can and does serve a public purpose—specifically, when there is an information imbalance or public safety issue that occupational licensing can protect against.

But when we’ve begun licensing hair shampooers and equine teeth floaters, we have to ask ourselves what purpose our occupational licensing system serves: protecting the public or protecting established industries?

Another important question that should be put to each occupational licensing scheme is whether restrictions on applicants with criminal histories play a role in protecting public safety. An occupational license for an ex-offender should take into consideration whether the offense on the applicant’s record is related to the profession or the situations in which the profession would lead the applicant.

A recent article from Austin-American Statesman exemplifies the importance of stepping away from overly restrictive occupational license.

A security alarm installer, Adam Waters, recently moved to Texas from North Carolina. He was apparently so skilled at his profession (not to mention his 25 years of experience) that he worked on the North Carolina Governor’s home, the home of a mayor, and even some buildings on local air force bases.

But Texas denied him a license to install alarms in our state. The reason given was that he received deferred adjudication after failing to pull over in Lee County. (He claims he didn’t hear or see the police officers.)

Mr. Waters clearly messed up. He shouldn’t have been speeding and he shouldn’t have failed to pull over immediately. No one would condone his actions.

But does this incident make him such a risk that he’s unable to obtain a license to install security systems in Texas? Does this one incident eviscerate 25 years of experience in his occupation? Did the licensing agency here in Texas check and see if he had ever incurred any complaints in relation to his work in those 25 years? Is a Texas agency that doles out occupational licenses a better judge of character than the Governor of North Carolina?

Or have we gone just a bit too far with occupational licensing in Texas?

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Two Smart on Crime States Post Results

Taxpayers in Pennsylvania are footing the bill for 454 fewer inmates this month than they were a year ago, while South Carolina’s citizens are paying for 2,700 fewer inmates.

Why? Pennsylvania created a more effective parole and processing system, while recent legislative alterations to drug and low-level crimes will further the prison population drop.

In South Carolina, the Legislature and Governor three years ago prioritized sending violent offenders to prison for a longer time, while providing for alternative sentences for nonviolent offenders, and created a more effective probation supervision system. The prison population drop resulted in two prison closures and $175 million in avoided prison construction costs.

Both states came to the realization that one-size-fits-all prison policies are expensive, and aren’t actually the best way to protect the public safety. Instead, prioritizing prison beds for violent offenders while doing more to get non-violent and low-risk offenders back on the right path can save millions and do far more to keep citizens safe.

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Prison Population Continues to Drop in Colorado

A little less than a year ago, Right on Crime mentioned that Colorado was considering closing a prison. They’ve done so—three, actually. And now the state is looking at closing even more.

That’s because statisticians in that state expect 2,600 to 3,600 more beds will be empty by the summer of 2014.

The reasons Colorado has seen such a significant drop in prison populations are varied. From an aging population, to more effective substance abuse reduction tactics, to gang-intervention programs, to swift-and-sure probation and supervision policies, the state is housing 7,500 fewer inmates than what was projected for this year.

And when the state tacks on around 3,000 beds to that figure, Colorado could close anywhere from two to ten facilities. Now Colorado legislators are faced with making the decisions of which facilities to close—which is a pretty fiscally fortunate decision to have to make.

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Universities of Crime: Post-Incarceration Illegal Earnings

Right on Crime has often discussed how, in particular situations, public safety is actually harmed by the incarceration of low-risk and medium-risk youth. This theory colloquially deems youth lock-ups “universities of crime,” and focuses on how certain youth may learn all the wrong lessons from older and more high-risk youth when locked up alongside them.

A professor from Ohio, Donald Hutcherson, decided to dig into this theory a bit more. As NPR summarized, Professor Hutcherson studied a federal data collection that includes surveys of youth and young adults after serving time in a lockup or in prison. He found that those who spent time behind bars reported an average of $11,000 more in illegal earnings after leaving secure placement.

Now, it is important not to conflate correlation and causation in these findings. It is entirely possible that such an increase in illegal earnings would have occurred without a term in a lockup or prison, and that the illegal earnings are sourced to factors irrespective of time in a secure facility. It is not possible to control for such factors.

But if prison were a perfect solution, there would be no increase in illegal earnings following time behind bars—in fact, none at all. If prisons and juvenile lockups perfectly cured the criminal impulse, former inmates and wards would report no illegal earnings whatsoever.

Instead, the increase in illegal earnings shows us that prison or juvenile lockups are not a one-size-fits all solution to the problem of crime and the path to public safety. Such facilities are indeed a valuable tool, but must be used judiciously.

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Florida Seeks to Increase Juvenile Diversions

Across Florida, municipalities are saving millions and keeping youth who do not need formal processing out of the system through the use of civil citations. Civil citations are eligible only for youth who have committed a misdemeanor or local ordinance violation, and involve supervision, treatment, and community service in lieu of arrest.

In return, a youth has the opportunity to learn from his or her mistakes and avoid formal processing, and the county can save money in law enforcement and court costs. And youths who received a civil citation reoffend far less than those on probation, which is likely where those youths would have been placed after formal processing.

The system is so successful that the Florida Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Wansley Walters, is personally travelling to counties that have not yet fully implemented a civil citations system and encouraging them to do so. This effort is in conjunction with Secretary Walters’ efforts to reduce unnecessary placements in state secure facilities. Florida’s juvenile facilities currently house a large number of low- and medium-risk youth that could safely be placed in other more effective programs at a significant cost savings.

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