Sometimes the government tells us no.
I’m not allowed to sit in the Oval Office and watch President Trump mull over Fox and Friends, ready to Tweet at a moment’s notice. I (begrudgingly) accept that. I also can’t read classified intelligence briefings or call a special session of the Alabama legislature. I could ask, but I’m quite sure I’d be told no.
Even so, in the United States, especially when compared to other nations, the government tells us no relatively rarely.
Sometimes, however, our government tells us no in a most sinister fashion, by disallowing us to use our skills, experience, and knowledge to work.
Thanks to current permit-to-work laws, also known as occupational licensing laws, this happens in Alabama.
Take the case of Dennis Gamble, for example.
Mr. Gamble hails from Gardendale and has, for decades, kept up his certified blasters license, regularly paying the renewal fee so that he would be allowed to work.
Mr. Gamble started his involvement in the mining, quarry, and construction industry 40 years ago. As a certified blaster, he oversaw many demolition projects that involved dynamite and other explosives. Although he began working as a blaster before the state regulated the occupation, he is no stranger to the testing and certification required before being allowed to work.
In fact, Mr. Gamble, along with others in the industry, was one of the original backers of state regulation. He even helped write the tests and determine what the qualifications of a blaster should be in the state.
While Mr. Gamble wasn’t always earning a living as a blaster, he kept up his license year after year—paying $100 a year for twenty years—because he wanted to be able to work when an opportunity presented itself. He looked forward to working occasionally in retirement on an as-needed basis, supervising different projects from time to time.
Unfortunately, however, Mr. Gamble was recently denied his renewal, in his words, “not because of any problems they had with me, but just because I didn’t have a job.”
The problem is that, to be hired, a blaster needs the state’s approval, and to have the state’s approval, a blaster must be employed. Therefore, by revoking Mr. Gamble’s 21st renewal request, the state effectively removed any possibility of Mr. Gamble working as a blaster again.
That’s not all.
Mr. Gamble sent three blasters-to-be to the state-approved, weeklong training at Bevill State Community College in Walker County. After passing the tests and fulfilling all the requirements, they, unfortunately, were told they could not receive their license for the same reason that Mr. Gamble could not renew his—unemployment.
This situation and the reasoning behind these rejections are clearly illogical. Unfortunately, the very regulation that Mr. Gamble helped create warped into a ban on pursuing work in the industry he knows better than almost anyone.
Problems with occupational licensing laws are commonplace. As I have argued before, when both the Obama and Trump administrations agree on something, it’s time to get to work.
Alabama spends millions of dollars in tax incentives luring big business to the state, hoping for job creation and economic development as a result. Simultaneously, the state government is hindering the reasonable employment of its own skilled citizens, effectively choosing winners and losers.
Something is wrong with this picture.
Nevertheless, there are obviously occupations that need oversight, as Mr. Gamble argues himself about blasters.
Any discussion about reforming occupational licensing, therefore, must be holistic in nature, allowing both the existence of licensing and the actual, minute, details of the regulations to be questioned in light of two priorities—public safety and individual freedom to work.