The Corner

More State Occupational Licensing Law Abuse: Kentucky Edition

Occupational-lisencing laws mostly serve as a form of protectionism by excluding potential competitors from a given market and keeping prices artificially high. As you can imagine, it is not good for the businesses who are kept out of the market nor is it good for the consumers. This piece by Stephanie Simon, published in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago, looked at the professional-licensing cartels across American state government and reports that “occupational licensing is estimated to add at least $116 billion a year to the cost of services, or about 1% of total U.S. consumer spending.” Unfortunately, the practice is prolifirating. She writes:

The most recent study, from 2008, found 23% of U.S. workers were required to obtain state licenses, up from just 5% in 1950, according to data from Mr. Kleiner. In the mid-1980s, about 800 professions were licensed in at least one state. Today, at least 1,100 are, according to the Council on Licensure, Enforcement and Regulation, a trade group for regulatory bodies. Among the professions licensed by one or more states: florists, interior designers, private detectives, hearing-aid fitters, conveyor-belt operators and retailers of frozen desserts.

But it gets worse. This morning, the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog reports that the state of Kentucky is asking an advice columnist of 30 years, John Rosemond, to stop doing his job because while he is a licensed “psychological associate” in his home state of North Carolina, he is not licensed in Kentucky.

Kentucky officials say he violated state law by presenting himself as a psychologist and then giving parenting advice without a proper license. Mr. Rosemond is a licensed “psychological associate” in his home state of North Carolina, but not in Kentucky.

Kentucky says the tough-love advice he dispensed to a reader about dealing with a spoiled child amounted to the “unlawful practice of psychology” in the state.

In response, Mr. Rosemond filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway and members of the Kentucky Board of Examiners of Psychology, accusing them of violating his First Amendment rights to free speech.

In May, at the behest of the psychology board, the state attorney general’s office issued a cease-and-desist affidavit to Mr. Rosemond. The letter flagged a February 12 column that ran in the Lexington Herald-Leader and dozens of other papers. In the column, a couple sought advice on handling their “highly spoiled” underachieving teenage son. Mr. Rosemond replied that the kid was in “dire need of a major wake-up call” and urged the parents to take away his cell phone and and driving privileges. His columns identify him as a family psychologist.

The attorney general’s office stated the column amounted to a “psychological service” as defined by Kentucky law. As such, it stated, Mr. Rosemond needed to have a license to practice psychology in Kentucky.

The state said that to prevent legal action, he must agree to stop practicing psychology in Kentucky (in other words, stop writing columns like the spoiled brat one) and to stop referring to himself as a psychologist in the state.

Thankfully, Rosemond will be represented by the Institute for Justice in his lawsuit to challenge what should be seen as outrageous overreach by a government licensing board and a First Amendment violation. It is not the first time that IJ has had to fight such overreach and hopefully it will win this case as it did when it fought on behalf of the monks of St. Joseph Abbey in Covington, La. against the embalmers and funeral directors of that state. 

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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