The Virginia state senate has voted unanimously to approve a bill that would require art therapists to be licensed — citing concerns about the sharpness of scissors and the “toxic chemicals” in glue presenting safety risks.
According to a piece by Reason’s Eric Boehm, the bill was approved last week, and it doesn’t really detail what kinds of qualifications would be necessary in order to obtain one of these sorts of licenses. Rather, it states that it would create a new board, made up of mostly art therapists, to figure that out.
Now, if you’re a reasonable person, you are probably puzzled to hear that glue and scissors are being considered dangerous. If you’re like me, you may have even encountered glue on your own as a child, and you’re still very much alive to tell the tale.
So why do these lawmakers seem to feel differently? Why do they think that adults need to be protected from things that five-year-olds can handle perfectly fine themselves?
It’s simple: They don’t.
As Boehm states, these sorts of bills are more about the government “capturing a segment of the economy” than keeping anyone safe — and consumers are the ones who end up losing. In fact, Boehm cites one study which found that “licensing laws across all 50 states resulted in 2.85 million fewer jobs and cost consumers more than $200 billion annually.”
Worse, these sorts of rules can hit consumers with legal consequences as well. As another article in Reason explains, this is exactly what happened to more than 118 unlicensed handymen in Florida recently: The Hillsborough County police department conducted an undercover sting in which they posed as homeowners seeking handymen on social media, convinced unlicensed handymen to either perform or agree to perform tasks that required a license (such as painting), and then arrested them for “unlawful acts in the capacity of a contractor,” a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and a year in jail for a first-time offense.
Arresting someone because they got paid to paint (which is, you know, hardly a life-threatening activity) is bad enough, but what makes it even worse is that, according to a criminal defense attorney representing some of the handymen, the police actually went out of their way to try and trick these people by first asking for help with a task that didn’t require a license — then, after they’d agreed to do that one, hitting them with a request for something that did require one.
“When the handyman says no, then the undercover detective moves the conversation to something else and then comes back to the question later in a different way,” the attorney, Leslie Sammis, told Reason.
“By the time the handyman gets to the location, they want to make the homeowner happy and end up agreeing to perform work that they didn’t intend on doing when they first arrived,” she continued. “The undercover detective[s] are just creating a crime that probably wouldn’t occur otherwise.”
What’s even worse is that what’s happened in Hillsborough is hardly an isolated incident. In 2017, a Florida woman faced up to a year in jail for allowing people to pay her for diet tips without a license. In 2016, a single mother faced the same sentence for selling a plate of ceviche in an online potluck. In that case, police had classified her dish as an “illegal substance,” because her kitchen hadn’t been inspected by the health department. Like the case in Hillsborough, both of these women were busted due to undercover police operations.
Based on what we’ve already seen happen in the past, I really have no doubt that we could see some equally stupid outcomes in Virginia if this bill were to become law. Of course, if anyone is advertising themselves as having been formally educated as a mental-health professional when he or she is not, then that is a problem. The thing is, though, there are already laws that protect against that. It’s not like Ceviche Lady was out there pretending to be a professional, health-department-inspected restaurant, but she still got busted for her sale.
Honestly, if Virginia senators have their way, I wouldn’t be shocked to see police officers posing as parents in need of babysitting — only to arrest those babysitters once they’d heard them alluding to the mental-health benefits of art while cutting and gluing construction paper with the kiddos. Or what about all of those suburban moms out there who think it’s fun to make arts and crafts with their friends? The ones who sometimes say things like “OMG, this is like seriously my therapy!” while doing so? Is a cop going to infiltrate their little Chardonnay-and-crafts Wine Mom Time and have them arrested? These things may sound crazy, but given what we’ve already seen in the past, I actually find either of these scenarios to be far more likely than any scenario in which an adult accidentally kills herself with glue when she was just trying to make a Christmas-themed Popsicle-stick house with her gal pals.
The bottom line is, our law enforcement is tasked with protecting us from harm — not with creating it by levying penalties for “offenses” that present no real risk to anyone.