Legislative proposals to deregulate the licensing requirements for a number of professions in Florida could help prevent individuals convicted of crimes from returning to prison. That’s the finding of a new report released Monday morning by the James Madison Institute (JMI), a policy research think tank based in Tallahassee.

The report states that “deregulating occupational licensing laws in Florida could have a one-for-one impact on reducing recidivism.” It claims for each one percent reduction in the number of regulated professions in Florida, the state would see a one percent decrease in the number of people who recommit crimes and return to prison.

“Research consistently shows that a steady job is critical to helping those leaving prison stabilize their life and avoid re-offending,” says Samuel R. Staley with JMI’s Research Advisory Council. “Unnecessary barriers to employment, such as most occupational licensing laws, are significant obstacles to the gainful employment formerly incarcerated people need to re-join our communities as productive members.”

The JMI report says about 86 percent of individuals released from prison are likely to re-offend within nine years following their release, with most of them re-offending within the first two years. The report says it’s crucial to get individuals into the workforce to stop the cycle of crime. The report concludes that the best way to get individuals back into the workplace after being released from prison is to deregulate Florida’s occupational licensing requirements.

“In the world of policy analysis, we often spend our time focusing on numbers, charts, and statistics,” said Sal Nuzzo, JMI’s Vice President of Policy. “It is my sincere hope that with this analysis we see the reality – that behind the statistics in this incredible study  are human beings, worthy of respect and possessing intrinsic value, trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. This is why we do what we do – to help promote opportunity for all of us, regardless of life circumstances.”

From talent agents to auctioneers and boxing announcers, proposals working their way through the legislative process this year would deregulate licensing requirements for a number of professions.

One of those proposals (SB 1640) is scheduled to be heard Monday afternoon in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee. The legislation touches more than 100 sections and would repeal licensing requirements for many professions, including interior designers. That generated opposition last week from interior designers who argue the spaces they sometimes redesign —  like doctors offices — affect public health and, therefore, should have some regulation.

The American Institute of Beauty also questions whether the state is going too far.

“It’s appropriate for state lawmakers to consider the proper role of government and eliminate excessive regulations that hold back Florida’s economy,” said Michael Halmon, the Institute’s  president, said in a recent op-ed that was published in The Capitolist. “At the same time, it’s essential that elected leaders preserve the fundamental responsibility of government to safeguard citizens and avoid actions that have unintended consequences.”

In his op-ed, Halmon writes:

This legislation would reduce the number of hours needed to work as a barber to 600, less than half the national average. Within that limited time, students would have to learn fully about safety and sanitation, including preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and fungal diseases and recognizing potential skin and scalp conditions – all while also studying the fundamentals of hair cutting and styling, performing delicate chemical procedures, and following applicable laws and rules.

But, the JMI report says too many of the state’s professional licensing requirements have become barriers for too many Floridians seeking to re-enter the state’s workforce.

“Occupational licensing is a classic example of well-intended public policy gone awry. Rather than protect consumers or ensure service quality, licenses erect barriers to entry for workers,” said Vittorio Nastasi, JMI’s Associate Scholar, “This study indicates that overly burdensome training and formal education requirements are especially detrimental to former offenders. Reducing these requirements could significantly ease the reintegration process by opening new opportunities for gainful employment.”

The sponsor of the Senate bill says he is trying to use good judgment in addressing deregulation.

“I want things to make sense,” said Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, said last week.  “I want deregulation where it can happen but at the same time I really feel like we need to be thoughtful about this and cautious to make sure we’re not making a poor choice and putting the safety of our constituency at risk.”


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