The Burden of Over-Regulation

Guest Commentary

Editor’s Note: This article was first published by the Commonwealth Foundation, and has been reprinted with the author’s permission.

Summer’s Best Two Weeks (SB2W) is a non-profit summer camp located in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Laurel Mountains for children ages 8 to 18.  SB2W counselors have led campers on rafting trips for over three decades.  Yet in 2001, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources forbade campers from rafting down the Lower Youghiogheny River unless led by a commercial outfitter.

In the name of “public safety,” state government is forcing the summer camp to pay $30,000 to a for-profit rafting company.  This mandate was imposed on SB2W though they have never had a single death or serious injury, while commercial outfitters have been responsible for at least four rafting related deaths in the past ten years.

Burdensome regulations in Pennsylvania not only financially punishes non-profits, but they also contribute to Pennsylvania’s poor reputation as a place to do business.  A 2005 report from the Pacific Research Institute ranked Pennsylvania 45th out of the 50 states in “economic freedom and financial prosperity,” and Forbes magazine recently ranked the Commonwealth as the 41st “best state for business.”

An example of the harmful over-regulation of businesses is the Public Utilities Commission’s (PUC) practice of hindering “public utility” providers, including taxi cab drivers.  Anyone who wishes to transport a person (or property) for a fee must first obtain a “certificate of public convenience.”

This certificate may only be obtained if the driver can prove there is a clear need which is not currently being met and that the driver maintains sufficient means to meet that need.  Current transportation companies then have the ability to petition the PUC to deny a certificate to a potential competitor.  This process only serves to prevent new companies from entering the marketplace as government effectively sanctions and protects these quasi-monopolies of transportation options.

Another regulatory agency, the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA), consists of 27 occupational licensing boards.  Although the BPOA has been referred to as “The best-kept law enforcement secret in the Commonwealth,” it can be one of the most oppressive forces against economic freedom in Pennsylvania.

The BPOA regulates dozens of occupations and business categories, issuing thousands of licenses each year.  These licenses usually require years of expensive training, meeting certain “moral character” qualifications, passing a state licensing examination, and paying a licensing fee before practicing a trade.  Cosmetologists, barbers, manicurists, and hair braiders are among the many professions subjected to licensing requirements in the name of “public safety.”

For example, applicants for a cosmetologist’s license must be at least sixteen years of age, of “good moral character,” have a tenth grade education, either (1) completed 1,250 hours at a registered school of cosmetology or (2) served as an apprentice for 2,000 hours in a licensed cosmetology shop, passed the cosmetologist license examination, and paid the appropriate licensing fee.

Recently, Act 99 of 2006 created “limited licenses” for the professions of “esthetics,” “nail technology,” and “hair braiding.”  These licenses reduce the training requirements to 200 hours for nail painting, 300 hours for natural hair braiding and esthetics, and 150 hours for natural hair braiders with proof of actively practicing for three consecutive years, in addition to examination and fee requirements.

While other states are taking steps to reduce government imposed restrictions on economic freedom, Pennsylvania is regressing back to the guild mentality of ages past.  To date, ten states, including Mississippi and Washington last year, have repealed regulations requiring hair braiders to take courses irrelevant to natural hair braiding.

Compared to other professions, some of the BPOA’s training requirements are ludicrous.  While the state requires 1,250 hours of classroom training to become a cosmetologist or a barber, it only requires 750 hours to become a police officer, 125.5 hours to become an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and a mere 40 hours for a privately employed security officer to carry a lethal weapon.

Expensive and repressive, these requirements prohibit individuals from entering into their desired professions.  Those without sufficient means to obtain the educational requirements are most affected by these regulations.  While passed under the guise of protecting the consumer from bad businesses or providing for the “public safety,” these mandates serve only to protect existing businesses from new competition and contribute to Pennsylvania’s poor rankings as places to do business.