Senate Bill 335 will diminish access to license fees to unaccountable occupational licensing boards

The easiest way to get an itemized list of Nevada’s occupational licensing boards, which govern roughly 25 percent of Nevada’s workforce, is by examining website code. 

I wish I was joking. 

The governor’s office, which is responsible for appointing state board and commission vacancies, helpfully maintains a website listing board vacancies. The attention to detail brought to their subject matter, however, is less than encouraging:

In the year 202021… if man is still alive… if woman can survive… they may find 233 vacancies across 85 boards and commissions.

The governor’s office, however, does not maintain a list of current boards, for, as it so usefully explains, the governor does not, in fact, have any regulatory authority over boards and commissions. The governor merely appoints members to the state’s 250 (give or take) boards and commissions, including Nevada’s 38 occupational licensing boards, then forgets they exist for another biennium unless one of them does something fantastically stupid. That’s why, if you want to find more information about a board or commission, you can find it, and I quote, “through Nevada’s Legislature and on respective boards’ websites. Most of this information can be found via an online search.”

So I did.

I will remind the reader that the Legislature is populated by 63 part-time legislators, each term limited to 12 years (assuming they’re not replaced in a primary or general election), none of whom directly earn more as a legislator than they would if they filled one of Nevada’s suddenly empty waitstaff jobs. Additionally, the Legislative Branch consumes all of pages 351 to 373, inclusively, and roughly $40 million, of Nevada’s nearly 3,000 page and $13 billion budget. This means legislative oversight and visibility of Nevada’s occupational boards looks, well… like this:

Helpful.

If you want a full list of boards which provide reports to the Legislature, your best bet is to right-click on that “Select a board to view” dropdown menu, choose “Inspect,” and get ready to read some HTML:

Alcohol, Drug and Gambling Counselors, The Board of Examiners for!

Or, alternatively, you could just skim the following list, which I’m providing as a service to you, dear reader, in the spirit of bringing you a more open and transparent state government, and not in the spirit of artificially inflating this column’s word count or optimizing search engine results for The Nevada Independent by cornering the search results for occupational licensing, occupational licensing in Nevada, occupational licensing boards, occupational licensing boards in Nevada or Nevada occupational licensing boards:

If a dropdown list, a nine member Sunset Subcommittee of volunteer citizen legislators working in their off hours and the governor occasionally remembering to fill a vacancy by appointment when his office can spend a second to spellcheck the numerical representation of our current year sounds like a recipe for lax enforcement of whatever it is those boards do, you’re right — assuming your definition of “lax” is roughly synonymous with “nonexistent.” Case in point, the Sunset Subcommittee reported in its most recent interim study report that it reviewed the State Board of Parole Commissioners, statutorily created in 1957, for the first time ever on February 21, 2020.

Now that it’s been reviewed, maybe the State Board of Parole Commissioners will submit a report to the Legislature so the Legislature’s staff can add the board to its dropdown menu.

Consequently, most occupational licensing boards in Nevada are functionally state-sanctioned medieval guilds, funded and staffed by their statutorily chosen vocations’ licensees. Conjecturally, these boards provide important consumer safety protections by ensuring workers licensed in, say, dispensing hearing aids in Utah don’t accidentally bring inferior Utahn hearing aid dispensing practices to Nevada — at least, not without paying the Board of Speech-Language Pathology, Audiology and Hearing Aid Dispensing $250 first. 

In practice, the boards serve their licensees by restricting access to their professions through nitpicky state-specific licensing and regulatory language, thus reducing competition for wages, at the cost of reducing supply to their services to consumers in our state — but only on a good day. On a bad day, some boards abdicate all responsibility entirely and cut $70,000 checks to the chairman of the minority political party in exchange for listening to said chairman read legislation like he’s reading a bedtime story, or just enrich themselves with large six-figure salaries.

This is the universe in which SB335 was introduced.

SB335 seeks to place a few of these occupational licensing boards under something approaching actual oversight. It is not the culmination of a decades’-long process to overhaul Nevada’s occupational licensing system, but merely the first step. The idea is to fold some of the boards experiencing the most trouble with autonomously running their administrative affairs — namely, the Board of Dental Examiners, the Board of Homeopathic Medical Examiners, the Board of Oriental Medicine, the Board of Athletic Trainers and the Board of Massage Therapy — into the Division of Occupational Licensing within the Department of Business and Industry, where open meeting laws might actually be enforced and state human resources regulations might actually be adhered to. Additionally, the Division of Occupational Licensing can review any remaining occupational licensing boards and, if it doesn’t like what it sees, it may recommend the abolishment of the board to the Legislature.

Naturally, some people — members of the soon-to-be defunct boards, mostly — are very upset about this. The Barber’s Health and Sanitation Board was, for example, on the chopping block before Sen. Joe Hardy (R-Boulder City) changed his mind (it was, I suppose, a close shave). If this editorial painting anyone opposed to the existence of the Board of Oriental Medicine of racism (written, I might note, by two old white guys) is any indication, apparently that board’s members aren’t particularly fond of finding themselves unemployed, either, and they are not above making a few phone calls to elected officials to keep their jobs — and stall the bill in the process.

The sad truth of SB335 is it will not abolish a single license and it won’t reduce a single occupational license fee — I say “sad” because Nevada has the second-worst occupational licensing laws for lower income workers in the country and federal jurisprudence is becoming increasingly hostile to the anticompetitive behavior of many occupational licensing boards. SB335 will, if passed, eliminate a small number of occupational licensing boards, fold their functions and regulations into a better managed executive branch agency with actual oversight and accountability, and increase accountability against Nevada’s remaining ill-behaved occupational licensing boards so they will either meet the needs of Nevada’s consumers or die trying. The worst that might happen is Nevada’s lone university of oriental medicine will have to advertise that they are approved by the Nevada State Division of Occupational Licensing instead of the Nevada State Board of Oriental Medicine on their About page. 

Unfortunately, even that modest improvement to Nevada’s ridiculously overbearing and unaccountable occupational licensing system is too much for two senior Democratic leaders to bear. If they get their way, it will mean more volunteer work for their successors’ Sunset Subcommittee — and more licensing fees taken out of the pockets of Nevada’s workers.

David Colborne was active in the Libertarian Party for two decades. During that time, he blogged intermittently on his personal blog, ran for office twice as a Libertarian candidate, and served on the Executive Committee for his state and county Libertarian Party chapters. He is now the father of two sons, an IT manager, and a registered non-partisan voter. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidColborne or email him at david@colbornemmx.com.