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Editorial: Gov. should have specified which licenses are in, out

We applaud Gov. Susana Martinez for trying to open New Mexico’s door wider to business as she gets ready to close the one on her gubernatorial career.

Last week, she signed an executive order that no longer requires professional licenses that aren’t codified in statute – a move designed to cut bureaucratic red tape and create more economic opportunities for New Mexico job seekers by eliminating fees that can amount to hundreds of dollars and requirements that can add up to years.

Currently, licenses are required for dozens of professions, ranging from someone who shampoos your hair to someone who delivers your baby.

Getting rid of unnecessary red tape is always a good thing, and making it easier for more people to join the workforce is key to expanding and diversifying our economy. And the order continues to protect consumers in two ways: By still requiring licenses for those covered by state law and by requiring those who no longer need to get a license to inform the customer of that.

But why was this initiative rolled out in such an uninformed and clumsy manner?

After announcing the executive order, no one in the Governor’s Office or the state Department of Regulation and Licensing could say which professions will still require licenses per state statute and which are covered under administrative rule and will no longer need them. When asked by the Journal for specifics, they were unable to produce a list except to say that medical-related professions and tattoo artists would still need to be licensed.

There’s no question that government can overreach and stifle business and burden low-income wage earners with ridiculous licensing requirements ($160 and 1,200 hours of experience to shampoo hair?!). But employers, employees and consumers deserve clear rules – and to know up front which professionals are affected and which are not without having to go to the state statutes or the individual boards/commissions/agencies/departments to figure it out.

Make no mistake, the order does a lot of good things, including honoring licenses in good standing from other states and accepting professional experience as a substitute for reciprocal licensure – both will help job seekers who have moved to the Land of Enchantment join our workforce. And the provisions to have state boards, commissions, agencies and departments come up with rules/policies to “reduce the burden of education requirements, testing, fees, and continuing education required for licensure” promise to set realistic bars for what is truly needed to practice a profession in New Mexico.

The Rio Grande Foundation and Americans for Prosperity-New Mexico praised the governor’s action, with AFP-NM State Director Burly Cain calling it “one of the most significant occupational licensing reforms made by any state, ever, and one that would help break down barriers to opportunity for thousands of New Mexicans.”

There’s no question licensure requirements can be onerous and, yes, a barrier for some folks to enter the workforce. By all means, the state should get rid of the ones that are unnecessary. But it’s critical to recognize the regulations put in place to protect the public, and we shouldn’t sacrifice those at the altar of economic development without knowing exactly which requirements we’re throwing out and the potential fallout for the consumer and the state. People can live with bad hair cuts; hepatitis C is a different matter.

As state boards, commissions, agencies and departments draft rules and hold public hearings on them, the state should work quickly to release a list so consumers and professionals know where they stand – and New Mexicans know with certainty the executive order eliminates unnecessary red tape for professions that don’t require a lot of expertise while continuing to protect the public from those that can truly cause harm if not done properly.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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