Op-Ed From Speaker Beth Harwell and Representative Jeremy Faison

Tennessee is open for business. With low taxes and sensible, yet limited regulations, that is the message state leaders in Tennessee have been sending to the rest of the country. But are we open to business for everyone? That’s a question we have been asking ourselves in the Tennessee House of Representatives. In the past, the answer has, sadly, been no.

Tennessee has been hailed as a great place to do business, and for good reason. We have the lowest debt and among the lowest taxes of any state in the nation, and we are attracting dozens of people a day from other states with less business friendly environments. But, we still have work to do. For example, not every Tennessean has the ease of obtaining a good job in our state. One hurdle is occupational licensing. Tennessee requires a license to work in 110 different jobs, most of which impact people living at low- and moderate-income levels. These hurdles make it harder for Tennesseans to earn an honest living and climb the economic ladder.

Over the last few years we have made this issue a top priority in the state legislature. After the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a nonprofit public policy organization focused on state-level reforms, began drawing attention to the pitfalls of overregulation through licensure, we got to work. We first passed the Right to Earn a Living Act, which requires our legislative government operations committees to conduct a thorough and ongoing review of licensing laws in our state, ensuring that those laws are necessary to protect the health and safety of consumers.

In just two years since the passage of the Right to Earn a Living Act, we’ve repealed two unnecessary licensing laws. Prior to last year, Tennessee was one of only five states that required a license to simply wash hair. You shouldn’t have to go to school for 300 hours to do something most of us do on a daily basis without training. So we eliminated that regulation. And after the state veterinary board told two equine massage therapists in Middle Tennessee that they were illegally practicing veterinary medicine without a license, we stepped in and preserved their right to earn a living.

We’ve also stopped new licensing schemes from becoming law, such as the push this year to create a new “art therapy” license. And we made it easier for Tennesseans to obtain an occupational license through expanding apprentice programs to make it easier for low-income Tennesseans and those with nonviolent past criminal records to obtain a license. In addition, we’ve already made it easier for all Tennesseans—adults and students graduating high school—to attend community college and technical schools free of charge to acquire these skills through TN Reconnect and TN Promise.

As a result of this success, Tennessee was recently named the number one state for reducing licensing barriers. This translates into more jobs and more opportunity for our fellow Tennesseans who just want the ability to get and keep a good job without government red tape.

While we are improving, there are still many examples of overly burdensome occupational licenses. State leaders must continue to identify ways to reduce barriers, while keeping new ones from creeping into law.

We also need to shift the burden to the government to prove that existing licensing laws—and those proposed by special interest groups—are absolutely necessary to protect consumers’ health and safety. Shifting the burden to the government is one smart step to ensure that Tennesseans aren’t being unfairly shut out of good paying jobs. If we are going to stop someone from earning an honest living, we better have a good excuse for doing so.

We applaud the work our General Assembly has done to prioritize the right to earn a living, and we encourage our fellow lawmakers to continue cutting red tape by getting government out of people’s way.