Testimony of Maureen Bader, Wyoming Liberty Group
Before the CORPORATIONS COMMITTEE
JUNE 28, 2012, Riverton, Wyoming
Occupational Licensing – Low Voltage Electrical Installation
During the 2012 budget session, the House considered HB0061, an act relating to electrical safety, with the goal to exempt low voltage installations and repairs from licensure requirements. This bill failed introduction by a vote of 38 to 21, (and one conflict) just missing the two-thirds majority needed to move forward.
For this, and the reasons I shall discuss below, I would urge you to consider re-introducing a bill to exempt low voltage installation and repairs from licensure requirements.
Occupational Licensing – A Growing and Unfortunate Trend
In Forbes Magazine’s Best States for Business and Careers published in 2010, Wyoming sat in the second-to-worst spot for its regulatory regime and third-to-worst for growth prospects. Regulations hinder growth because they act as barrier to entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurship is a key driver of economic growth. One type of barrier to entrepreneurship is occupational licensing.
A license is defined as a permit from an authority to do a particular thing or carry on a trade. In fact, the requirement for government’s permission to engage in an occupation of one’s choice is a growing trend all over the U.S.
A study published by the Institute for Justice showed that in the 1950s only one worker in 20 needed government’s permission to work in the job of his or her choice. Today, that number is almost one in three.
If the Wyoming government wants to improve growth prospects in the state, it must eliminate any and all arbitrary licensing requirements.
Licensing of low voltage electrical installation is a good example of the growing drive for government control over individual choice and worse still, it clearly shows how arbitrary that trend is.
Why Low Voltage Installation and Repairs should be Exempt from Licensure Requirements?
Supporters of onerous and burdensome licensing requirements claim licensing protects the health and safety of consumers. A good way to know whether licensing is effective is to compare relevant data from before and after licensing. It would appear that no one has ever done that analysis. I contacted Fire Marshall, Lanny Applegate on June 19, 2012 to find out how many fires are started by faulty low voltage wiring now, and he didn’t know, although he did say that between approximately 2002 and 2008 or 2009, 250 fires started because of some problem with low voltage wiring installation. He did not know how many fires were caused by faulty low-voltage installation before contractors and technicians required licenses.
Mr. Applegate had no data on the impact of the lack of licensing before low voltage contractors and technicians required licensure. In fact, if this licensing scheme were eliminated today, he would not be able to say whether licensing made any difference. However he did say he could put together data over the next few months if required and that, he was sure, it would support his view.
Stephen Skoranski the Wyoming government’s Fire Programs Manager located in Cheyenne, stated in a telephone conversation on June 19, 2012, that the quality of the data depends on the information sent by the fire department so even if they had the data, they may not know whether low voltage wiring created a problem or not.
According to Wyoming’s fire marshal, even though voltage technicians are licensed now, he still has problems with low-voltage technicians. So licensing may not be keeping us safer and it may be creating a false sense of security and make people less likely to be vigilant themselves about low-voltage installation.
It appears low voltage installations required licensing starting in1993. One must ask at this point, how did we manage to stay safe before that? Do we know how safe we were, or weren’t? The data is just not there.
Exemptions In Other States
In fact, we might also ask, how do states that don’t require low-voltage licensing keep people safe?
I stated earlier that low-voltage licensing is arbitrary. The reason I say this is because low voltage installers are licensed in some states and not others. For example, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia among others, including Wyoming, license low voltage installation. However Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, South and North Dakota, among others, do not.
Many of these states are not all that different from Wyoming, so how can we justify such different licensing schemes. If it were in fact true that the reason low-voltage installation required licensing to keep us safe, then why isn’t it licensed in all states?
Exceptions in Wyoming
There is even more evidence for the arbitrary nature of licensing requirements in Wyoming. Not all low voltage installation activity requires licensure. In fact, not all high voltage activity requires licensure either. For example, according to Title 35-9-123, not just low voltage licenses but an electricians’ license is not required for electrical installations by homeowners in their own home, oil or gas field operations, Cable-TV, satellite TV and telecommunications, or on farms or ranches.
Surely, if it were true that the main reason this occupation required licensing was safety, then these groups would not be exempt.
If it were in fact the case that there was data that showed that low-voltage electrical licensing made a difference, then why are some groups exempted from licensing?
What these two examples show is the arbitrary nature of this licensing requirement.
These inconsistencies give us good reason to doubt this licensing scheme is necessary. In fact, we could conclude that these inconsistencies reflect the success in the lobbying prowess of practitioners in securing laws to shut out competition, and not public health and safety risks.
Motivation Behind the Drive to License?
As the Institute for Justice study shows, licensing requirements have more to do with special interests lobbying to shut out competition than true health and safety risks. Certainly, if we look at who has supplicated for this requirement in front of this very committee the past, the AFC-CIO, and electrical contractor and an electrical installer, it would appear health and safety is nothing but an excuse to justify shutting out competition in the field.
As Wyoming is a right to work state, it is shameful that legislators fall victim to back door special interest lobbying by today’s guild-equivalent to prevent people from engaging in the profession of their choice.
A homeowner can do their own low voltage installation but the minute they ask someone for help, the government gets involved.
As Adam Smith observed 200 years ago, trades conspire to reduce the availability of skilled craftsman in order to raise wages. Professions use the power of concentrated interests to lobby state legislators for protection from competition through licensing laws.
Requiring permission to work from government creates schemes, which given their arbitrary nature and counter productive effects, strongly appear to result from special interest group lobbying. To enhance entrepreneurial opportunities in the state, the committee should exempt low voltage installations and repairs from licensing requirements.
So I would once again urge you to vote to sponsor a bill to eliminate licensing requirements for low voltage wiring.
Thank you for your attention.
The Wyoming Liberty Group is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, non-partisan research organization. The Group‘s mission is to prepare citizens for informed, active and confident involvement in local and state government and to provide a venue for understanding public issues in light of constitutional principles and government accountability. For more information please go to www.wyliberty.org.