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Limits on The American Dream in California

| December 21, 2017

Reading about dreams that were squashed by a government regulation is essentially Groundhog Day in California. A young man named Jonathan became a victim to overregulation when the Bay Area school that offered him a full-time job realized the state would not allow it. Due to California’s occupational licensing law, Jonathan’s past conviction for a low-level, nonviolent drug charge made him ineligible to earn a teaching certification. So, despite proving himself as a part-time teacher, and despite the school’s desire to hire him full-time, the state decided his past made Jonathan unworthy of the job.

Overly burdensome occupational licensing laws prevent people who’ve made mistakes from becoming productive members of society. There’s genuinely no reason a six-year-old, low-level offense like Jonathan’s should prohibit him from moving on with his life, but it does, and he’s not alone. The Golden State holds first place in licensing burdens for lower-income occupations according to a national study released this year. The study by Institute for Justice dives deeply into over 100 lower-income occupations that are burdened with licensing regulations throughout the U.S. There’s a wide variety of entry-level and entrepreneurial jobs included in the study such as barber, athletic trainer, landscape contractor, florist, etc. Given California is third among states in per-capita spending on welfare, reducing regulatory barriers to employment would be both a fiscally responsible and compassionate move for the state. The Institute for Justice cited 76 occupations that California’s Occupational licensing boards flood with regulatory barriers. Founder and Executive Director of Root & Rebound, an Oakland-based re-entry center, Katherine Katcher, best explains the ramifications of overregulation:

“Licensing boards were established, in theory, to keep our society safe. But the onerous barriers that keep formerly incarcerated people and people with records from accessing economic opportunity and social mobility do the exact opposite.”

California gets a lot of flak from Southern states like Texas for this exact reason. While California holds first place in occupational licensing burdens, Texas is 42nd. While most may know Texas for being ‘tough-on-crime,’ the state actually just celebrated its ten year criminal justice reform anniversary this year – and by no means is it slowing down. Just this legislative session, Texas lawmakers passed the Second Chances Bill which expanded the list of low-level offenses that Texans can seal from their records through petition. It’s redemptive policies like record sealing that help people who are deserving of a second chance become productive members of society.  Maybe if California reduced its occupational licensing burdens for certain low-level offenders, it could transform form a Welfare State to a Work State.

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KATIE GREER joined Right on Crime in April 2017 and currently serves as the Communications Manager.

Before joining Right on Crime, Greer most recently worked as a Communications Specialist for a statewide trade association. She came to Austin by way of lobbyist Bill Pewitt after successfully campaigning to elect Texas’ 48th Governor Greg Abbott. A 5th generation Texan, Greer took a detour to Mississippi where she earned a Bachelors in Communication Studies from Millsaps College. She came back to Texas as fast as she could.

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