Target 2 Investigates: Occupational licensing study makes recommendations on just 28

MADISON, Wis. (WBAY) - After tens of thousands of people voiced opinions, recommendations are now being made to eliminate certain occupational licenses across Wisconsin.

Target 2 Investigators publicized the state's plan last month. We discovered state officials were analyzing whether licenses were needed for more than 200 jobs.

The study included licenses for everything from electricians to doctors to cosmetologists.

As part of the last state budget, the law ordered the Department of Safety and Professional Services to look for ways to suggest eliminating some licenses.

Many of you told us you were concerned the whole process was being pushed through out of the public spotlight.

More than 65,000 people ended up taking the survey, hoping state officials would use their input to make a decision.

That report has not been released.

Out of more than 280 occupational licenses the state issues, the Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS) is recommending a fraction -- just 28 -- either be eliminated or put under consideration.

While there was initially great concern for public safety, the licenses on the chopping block seem to shy far away from those kinds of jobs.

"Very happy. I was actually very surprised they were even thinking about that," Sherri Hanrahan said.

An assistant professor of nursing at Bellin College, Hanrahan tells Target 2 she's relieved to see a short list of licenses up for elimination. "It is common sense."

"Common sense" is the same phrase used on page 42 in the study, saying its goal focused on "common sense occupational licensing reforms that will maintain consumer protection... that protect the public but remove barriers in finding jobs."

The 28 licenses DSPS recommends getting rid of include dance, music and art therapists; interior designers; and solid waste incinerator operators.

It also suggests eliminating permits for cigarette, alcohol and tobacco salespersons.

It recommends consolidating seven levels licenses for blasters who work with explosives into just one license.

The report looks at prior complaints, how many people currently hold those licenses, and compares Wisconsin's requirements to other states.

For example, it recommends people who teach veterinary students, licensed in four other states, don't need one here, arguing the university could verify credentials.

The total recommendations would affect a very small number -- 7,272 people, or 0.007 percent of the more than one million people who hold licenses in this state.

"It appears they took the results, because I'm assuming most credentialed individuals were like, 'This was a bad idea,'" Kevin Weigman, a master electrician, said.

Weigman is an electrical apprentice instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, and when Target 2 talked with him last month he was encouraging all his students and those in other trades to voice their opinions, arguing licenses ensure the public safety.

"The report stated that credentialing creates barriers for people entering it. Well, I think some of those barriers are necessary to protect the public safety," Weigman said.

When the Legislature ordered this study, it wanted to know if the cost of schooling or even the license itself was preventing people from getting jobs.

Nearly three-quarters of people who took the survey said they faced some sort of financial hardship getting their license.

That's been a concern of the Badger Institute, a think tank that's done research and analysis on licensing and is still pushing for more reform and more deregulation.

Badger Institute Vice President of Outreach and Special Projects Michael Jahr told Target 2, "What we had hoped for, and didn't see in this report, was a little bit more of a robust way of not only maybe eliminating certain licenses but looking for ways to streamline the process or the costs."

Like reducing the amount of training needed to acquire some licenses.

"I think that the jobs that they recommended, either consolidating or eliminating licensing requirements, were kind of what we're seeing is really low hanging fruit," Jahr said.

"It seemed rather -- to me anyway -- like a lot of wasted time to come up with this conclusion," Weigman said.

Target 2 asked DPS how much it cost to conduct this report. We haven't received a response from that agency or the governor's office yet.

These are still recommendations that need legislative approach to actually eliminate any licenses.

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