States are using absurd licensing requirements to license people right out of work – it has to stop
In Maryland, if you’re behind in paying your state taxes you face a perverse situation. You need money to clear yourself of the debt, but anyone with unpaid taxes is automatically prohibited from obtaining or renewing an occupational license. That makes it difficult to find a job, because you can’t work as a barber, manicurist, masseuse, chauffeur, taxidermist, physical trainer, upholsterer, unarmed security guard, or in many other professions without a government issued license.
It’s a cruel twist in the already sordid saga of occupational licensing. States are simply licensing entrepreneurs out of work. In some states you need a license to decorate homes or to apply make-up. In 37 states, you need a license to shampoo—and on average it takes 248 calendar days of training and experience to get it. That’s a lot of time for a license to wash hair—something that most people do at home on a regular basis without inflicting mass harm. In fact, it’s seven times the amount of training needed to get a license to be an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
One Maryland resident, a dentist who was denied his professional license because he was behind paying taxes, challenged the unpaid taxes law in 2005—correctly arguing that the state may only burden a person’s ability to enter a trade for reasons related to their fitness to work. As the Supreme Court has said, the state can impose licensing requirements to protect health and safety, like requiring doctors to have training in medicine. But it cannot impose burdens unrelated to a person’s qualifications, like banning people from practicing as lawyers because of their political beliefs. Nevertheless, a state court upheld Maryland’s unpaid taxes law on the theory that paying taxes is related to a person’s fitness to work as a dentist.
That’s puzzling. While the policy might make sense in an industry where financial savviness is important, like accounting, it makes zero sense in industries like massage therapy, cosmetology, dentistry, and the several other occupations licensed in the state. People who can’t afford their taxes are no less capable of filling cavities than those who can.
Marylanders are clearly unhappy. The Maryland Board of Nursing has a webpage devoted to the issue. The FAQ page reads:
“I received a letter from the board stating my license will be put on hold due to a tax payment issue. How could this be possible? This is unfair and just wrong! How can I pay my taxes if you are going to take away my license (or certificate)? This is my livelihood! Who can I talk to about this?”