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22.5.18

Edwards ditches reform for politics as usual

In the end, the lure of a sensible, popular reform lost out to politics as usual as practiced by Louisiana governors.

At the beginning of the regular session just concluded, as part of his legislative package Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards included occupational licensing reform. It led to speculation that he might lead a move against unnecessary and onerous regulations that stifled business and professional development.

Louisiana has the nation’s worst record in that regard, particularly badly affecting lower-income jobs, which Republican state Rep. Julie Emerson wished to change with a raft of bills aiming to eliminate licensing requirements with no genuine basis for existence. A smattering of other bills, most notably HB 825 by GOP state Rep. Polly Thomas, hoped to do the same.


Edwards included Emerson’s HB 561 and HB 562 on his list to back. The former would have finished a job started a few years ago to excise regulations of florists. Only Louisiana imposes that, and the present requirement asks for substantially less than it once did. The latter would have created a regular review system where a compulsory license would disappear unless regulators could demonstrate its continuing relevance. HB 825 would have given citizens the right to regulatory relief from these strictures and would have required the executive branch to justify the existence of all occupational licenses by 2020.

Yet Edwards did not include that one, nor other bills of Emerson’s that addressed licensing for landscape horticulturalists, cosmetologists, and interior designers. In retrospect, that signaled his real intent, which was to pay the issue lip service, then do little to help passage of these bills.

Some never even received a committee hearing, while other foundered at that stage. One failed on the House floor, and the only one to escape that, the substitute HB 748 for HB 562, the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection, and International Affairs Committee essentially gutted. Instead of the governor’s office to the Legislature justifying new regulations and analyzing existing ones for serviceability with periodic reports concerning the latter, what emerged only asked the governor’s office to come up with reports over the next five years making any recommendations it may see fit regarding licensing criteria.

This version having made it through the Senate, then House, and on to Edwards, onto it Emerson tried to put a brave face. “The meat of it is still there,” she argued. True; the meat being that on the hens, while the bill now lets the fox guard the henhouse.

Existing law already requests that governors whenever they see fit to provide commentary to legislators about licensing. They don’t, because having all those different licenses means having more boards to patrol these, more boards mean more gubernatorial appointees, and more appointees means more chances to curry favors and campaign cash. And in the case of any liberal Democrat like Edwards, it allows the chief executive to indulge in keeping government as inflated as possible.

No genuine reform will come if making discretionary its initiation by the executive branch. Look for whatever reports to emerge as little, if anything, to challenge the status quo. And after Edwards signs the do-nothing bill to prompt this, he’ll declare victory and call it a promise kept all the while retaining larger government and maximal opportunities to exchange appointments for support.

Which only goes to show, in the wrong hands even the easiest, most justified reduction of government power won’t happen when it threatens reducing a political payoff.

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