Accountability and transparency are the keys to good government. Both are missing in Alabama’s professional licensing boards, which have a major impact on businesses, workers, and consumers. It is past time for a change.
Whether you work in real estate, construction, medicine, or 148 other professions, Alabama law requires you to obtain a professional license from a state-run board. Over one-fifth of our state’s workers are in professions that require these board-issued licenses. There is the Alabama Real Estate Commission, Home Builders License Board, Medical Licensure Commission, and a Board of Cosmetology and Barbering. The licensing boards give you a permission slip from the government to practice your profession. They also handle compliance and continuing education and levy fines when they feel you are in violation of their rules.
None of this is subject to oversight. Initial licensing fees, continuing education requirements, and fines are all subject to change every year. The licensing boards offer no public review period for new costs or compliance measures within a profession. Even the EPA has one of those.
The costs imposed by licensing requirements are staggering. An Alabama Policy Institute study put the total costs of simply obtaining a license in one of these professions at $122 million and license renewal at $45 million. Neither of those numbers includes initial education or continuing education costs, which are an eye-popping $65 billion and $243 million, respectively.
The licensing boards also have a reach that exceeds their perceived grasp.
For example, a restaurant needs repairs, so its owner hires a business that does construction. This construction business takes the job without telling the restaurant owner its general contracting license is expired. If the Alabama Licensing Board for General Contractors discovers the construction business is working without an updated license, not only will it fine the business in question, it will also attempt to fine the unknowing restaurant. In other words, the licensing board for one profession has the power to impact the bottom lines of businesses and workers in other professions.
On top of all of this, there is no accurate accounting of licensing boards’ finances.
Last year, I served on the Alabama state House budget task force. We discovered many of the licensing boards are not even depositing the money they collect from issuing licenses and fines into the state treasury. Instead, they are putting taxpayer money into private bank accounts.
This year, I am taking action. The first step to reforming Alabama’s licensing boards is to have a clearer picture of how their money is being spent. When the Alabama legislature convenes in March, I am introducing a plan that will do two things.
First, it will subject each licensing board to an annual audit. Current law says each board is audited every two years. Given the constant impact the boards have on our state’s economy, an annual accounting of their finances is not too much to ask. Annual audits will prevent boards from slipping through the cracks and increase overall transparency.
Second, it will require each licensing board to put its income and expenditures online for the public to see. If the taxpayers must pay into this system, then they should see how each board is spending their money.
Putting these two simple changes into law would shake up the status quo in Alabama. Right now, licensing boards have essentially become the fourth arm of government, and one that operates in the shadows at that. Real transparency is the step to making this system work for the taxpayers, not against them.
State Rep. Chris Pringle is a Republican who represents Alabama’s 101stDistrict.