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.


MORE ON Economic Freedom

Three Reasons Why You Should Care About Occupational Licensing Reform

During my years working in public policy, there have been a handful of issues that have gotten me fired up. Typically when I tell people about them, they have some level of understanding—a state lottery, education and school choice, taxes and budgets, things like that. These days, when I’m asked about the issue I most […]

Monopoly and Locksmiths

  I love the game of Monopoly. The hope that I will land on expensive properties first, the poker-esque bluffing, and the art of deal-making with unsuspecting friends makes for a great game night. Even though I love Monopoly, I don’t always enjoy it. When I’ve missed out on important properties and am mortgaging the […]

Alabama’s unrestrained “permission slip to work” laws affect real Alabamians

Across the country, lawmakers are realizing the costs associated with the rampant overuse of occupational licensing laws. Alabama Policy Institute’s recent report shows that over 21% of Alabama workers are licensed. This means that more than one in five Alabamians need a government permission slip to work. Although the original impetus behind states’ licensing practices […]

MORE ON The Forum

Rachel Bryars: School boards are choosing systems over students by calling for scholarship repeal

Boards representing three of the state’s largest public school systems – Mobile, Baldwin and Montgomery counties – recently passed resolutions calling for a repeal of Alabama’s landmark tax credit scholarships for low-income families. They claim that the small yet popular program created in 2013 by the Alabama Accountability Act has “caused harm to the financial wellbeing” of […]

MORE FROM Parker Snider

API urges “Yes” vote on Amendment Two on evening news

Parker Snider, Director of Policy Analysis for the Alabama Policy Institute, recently urged voters to vote “Yes” on Amendment Two on Alabama local news, including WBRC Birmingham, WSFA Montgomery, WAFF Huntsville, and WTVM Columbus. Watch the stories here and here or at the links below. Story by WBRC’s Alan Collins: https://www.wbrc.com/2018/10/16/amendment-rights-unborn-v-right-choose/ Story by Raycom Media’s […]

How to prepare for Russia’s October surprise

Russia is in the business of mind control. They’re not doing it through sinister headgear, satellite interference, or dream invasion like in Inception, though. Instead, Russia seeks to control the minds of Americans through something we all have and spend arguably too much time on: social media. This isn’t news to many of us. For years […]

Towards a less angry politics

“When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, count to one hundred.” If only we followed the advice of the Founding Fathers. Thomas Jefferson, who expressed this sentiment, knew first-hand how politics can lead to indignation. Today, one glance at cable news or Twitter affirms that we too are accustomed to an […]