State Sen. Eric Brakey doesn’t believe animal control officers must be certified to wrangle rabid animals, massage therapists licensed to massage or sign language interpreters licensed to interpret.
“The purpose for occupational licensing is to ensure safety,” Brakey, R-Auburn, said. “If someone is poorly interpreting sign language, I don’t think that creates an imminent risk … in most situations.”
In a bill that gets a public hearing Thursday, Brakey has taken aim at 24 occupations he feels should have their state license or certification requirements stripped. He said people should be able to walk into the jobs without committing time to training and money to tests and that right now those requirements amount to barriers to employment.
Paul Reynolds, president of the Maine Association of Taxidermists, whose occupation is also on the list, says not so fast.
“I’m sure if you Google taxidermy, you’ll find work that runs the gamut from, ‘it looks like it’s been hit with a baseball bat’ to world-class stuff and everything in between,” Reynolds said. “I’m always trying to improve, learn as much as I can. It’s not, ‘I’ve seen a couple YouTube videos, and now I can do it.’ It doesn’t work that way.”
Brakey based those 24 occupations around the results of a 2012 report by the nonprofit Institute for Justice, “License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing.”
In each case — arborists, funeral attendants, animal breeders, auctioneers — 10 or more other states do not require a license for that same job.
According to the report, only two states, Maine and Idaho, require log scalers, people who estimate logs’ value, to be licensed. Only three states, Maine among them, license dietetic technicians.
Another of its findings: “Maine makes it more difficult to become a makeup artist, skin care specialist or massage therapist than an emergency medical technician. EMTs need only 33 days of training compared to more than 100 for the other occupations.”
“If other states seem to do fine without these occupational licensing requirements, is this something that we need here or is it just creating unnecessary barriers for people to get into the labor force?” Brakey asked.
Two years ago, he co-sponsored an emergency bill to repeal the license requirement for hair braiders. It passed.
“I don’t want to cast a broad brush over everyone what people’s motivations are,” Brakey said. “I think that many people truly believe if not for these licenses, bad things would happen. But there is also an aspect of once you are in the industry, once you have your license, you have an economic incentive to want to keep as much competition out as possible.”
Brakey isn’t the only elected official eyeing changes to Maine’s professional licensing requirements. Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Department of Professional and Financial Regulation Commissioner Anne Head announced Wednesday the introduction of three related bills. One of the proposals would make licensing easier for engineers, electricians, funeral practitioners and pump installers by allowing licensure boards more discretion to license professionals from other states, simplifying professional exams, allowing experience as a substitute for formal training and waiving residency requirements.
Another proposal would widen discretion for the department when it comes to veterans applying for licenses in fields for which they have military experience. LePage and Head characterized their proposals as ways to help businesses find workers.
“The state strives to be a helping hand, not an obstacle, for professionals trying to practice their trade in Maine and businesses trying to hire them,” said Head in a written statement.
Brakey said he’s purposely taken a two-phase approach: His current bill, LD 1036, directs the Maine Department of Professional and Financial Regulation to write legislation that would remove the requirements for those jobs. It would be up to the next legislature to vote on actually removing the requirements.
He expects some of the 24 jobs to drop off the list as the bill gets a hearing and workshop in front of the Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development.
“I know we’ve heard from aestheticians,” he said. “They raised some points about their profession in terms of what goes on medically there. They’re making a compelling case, and it also looks like it might have been included unintentionally. It’s my hope to at least make some progress toward making Maine an easier place to work and make a living without artificial government barriers to people doing so.”
Reynolds’ group plans to oppose the bill. Maine taxidermists take a written test for each specialty such as birds, fish and antlers, then show an example of their work to two taxidermists and a game warden. They’re graded pass/fail before getting a license.
“They try to make sure the baseline is there,” he said. “They want people to put out a good product and have some idea of what they’re doing before they do it.”
Those 24 include wood measurer or scaler, electrical helper, dietetic technician, arborist, funeral attendant, underground oil storage tank inspector, cathodic protection tester, sign language interpreter, animal control officer, guide, employee of slot machine facility or casino facility, weigher, taxidermist, animal breeder, teacher assistant, debt collector, auctioneer, fire alarm installer, aesthetician, veterinary technologist, security guard, massage therapist, mobile home installer and packer.
Bangor Daily News staff writer Christopher Cousins contributed to this report.