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Confusion clouds consumer choice order

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Gov. Susana Martinez last week signed an order allowing certain professionals to operate without a state license as long as they have a consumer’s consent – but the administration doesn’t yet know which occupations will be affected.

It appears the order was signed before anyone in that office or the state Department of Regulation and Licensing had compiled a list of professions that will no longer be required to have a license to practice.

Instead, it will be up to the state’s 34 boards and commissions listed in the executive order “to determine if the professions they license are exempt from the consumer choice order,” the Department of Regulation and Licensing said in a statement Friday.

The boards will do that based on whether state statutes require a license. The professions that are exempt – meaning they still will require a license – are required by statute to have one, and must therefore comply with specified training and other obligations.

In contrast, licensing requirements that fall under state regulation – rather than statute – would be covered by the consumer choice provision, and state licenses would no longer be required.

New Mexico’s boards and commissions cover a wide variety of occupations, including architects, barbers and cosmetologists, “body art practitioners,” engineers, accountants, massage therapists and interior designers.

Medical occupations are among those required by state law to have a New Mexico license. So are tattoo artists, according to the Governor’s Office.

The office said the state boards would “ensure public safety while using this executive order as a guide to prevent government overreach that is harmful to New Mexicans.”

Martinez spokesman Ben Cloutier did not respond to repeated requests by phone, text and email to name other professions affected by the governor’s order.

Requiring fewer professions to obtain state licenses was part of a broader reform package the governor unveiled on Wednesday. It aims to streamline the process for professionals to transfer out-of-state licenses when they move to New Mexico, reduce certain license and testing fees and waive those charges entirely for state residents who receive public assistance.

The order accuses the boards and commissions of “frequently (using) overly restrictive licensure schemes to regulate certain professions.”

The changes will “make it easier for people to enter the workforce or find new jobs by reducing artificial barriers to enter the workforce, such as testing, experience and education for entry-level positions,” the governor said in a news release.

Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, said Friday he supported a change making it easier for people moving to New Mexico to obtain licenses in the state.

However, he questioned Martinez’s timing on the order, noting that she will step down from office at the end of the year.

“It just strikes me (that) the timing of this would be all wrong … when it might just be overturned by the next governor,” he said. “My impression is she’s trying to earn brownie points with some group.”

Lee McGrath, senior legislative counsel for the Institute for Justice based in Arlington, Va., said his group worked with Martinez’s staff on the issue, as it has in other states. The group, which describes itself as a libertarian public interest law firm, believes that occupational licensing has “high costs in terms of unemployment and consumer prices,” McGrath said.

After the Journal reached out to the Governor’s Office for comment, it asked McGrath to call the newspaper to discuss the reasons for the new policy.

State statutes that require licenses for certain professions include provisions on training, safety, education and experience levels. For example, the rules for tattoo artists cover how to maintain sanitary conditions and dispose of contaminated waste.

Under current practice, regulatory boards also mandate such requirements, but the new policy would allow professionals to bypass those by having their clients sign a form acknowledging they are aware the person does not have a license.

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