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Dave Solomon's State House Dome: Now that's special delivery

October 06. 2018 7:54PM

Occupational licensing is one of those issues that Gov. Chris Sununu has been focused on as part of his effort to ease regulations on business, so he was happy to hear more details last week on a $245,000 federal grant the state recently received to study the issue with an eye on reform.

But he wasn't happy to learn the grant application had to be hand-delivered by a staff attorney from the Office of Professional Licensure and Certification to Washington, D.C., in order to get there on time.

The issue was brought up by Councilor Andru Volinsky, who later said he was told of the special delivery by a state representative.

"I wonder what that cost?" Sununu said after learning about the situation during a presentation to the five-member Executive Council on Wednesday.

Peter Danles, executive director of the OPLC, was pressed by councilors as to why a 500-mile, nine-hour drive was necessary to deliver a grant application in the age of emails, uploads and overnight delivery.

"I think someone's going to be taken to the woodshed on this one," said Executive Councilor David Wheeler as the council meeting wound up.

The federal notice of the grant opportunity was posted on April 12 to the federal Department of Labor website, with a deadline for submissions of May 14. Yet according to Danles, the OPLC only had two weeks to complete the application.

As time ran out, a staff attorney with family and friends in the D.C. area volunteered to deliver the application personally, and he did not submit travel or mileage expenses, Danles informed the council in a follow-up email on Thursday.

"If he did not volunteer to make the trip over the weekend, I was willing to do so since I have family in that area as well," Danles wrote.

"In the end, we wanted 100 percent certainty that the OPLC would be considered for this grant opportunity. Our fear was that our application would be rejected for a technicality, given the extremely specific submission requirements."

He later told the Union Leader, "I just want to make clear that we went above and beyond to have this delivered to the U.S. Department of Labor without adding traveling fees to the equation."

The council approved the OPLC request to spend nearly $100,000 of the grant to conduct an occupational licensing review and reform analysis on 14 occupations in the fields of alcohol and drug use professionals, allied health professionals, barbering, cosmetology and aesthetics, licensed nursing assistants, and pharmacy technicians.

"Alleviating licensure barriers, which could fast-track deserving and qualified populations into careers, helps the state, employers and potential employees alike," according to Danles.

Sununu agrees. Like many fans of the free market, he believes occupational licensing in many cases has become a bureaucratic barrier to work, as incumbent professionals on licensing boards do everything they can to make it more difficult for new competitors to enter the fray.

According to a review of licensing laws by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian policy group, the average license to work for lower-income occupations in the Granite State requires paying $183 in fees, completing 273 days of education and experience and passing two exams.

New Hampshire licenses several occupations that are rarely licensed elsewhere, such as animal trainers, sign language interpreters and auctioneers, according to the Institute for Justice report issued earlier this year. It's easier to become an EMT in the Granite State than to become a licensed barber or cosmetologist.

Success in turning this around has been incremental. In 2017, the Legislature exempted hair braiders from the state's cosmetology laws. Earlier this year the Senate passed SB 334, which requires New Hampshire to accept licensing from other states for professions ranging from nursing to hair cutting to geology.

A House bill, HB 1685, that would have created a study commission to look into whether all of these professions should require a state license in the first place, died in the Senate.

It has been a mixed bag on licensing reform so far, but the three-year Department of Labor grant will help state officials gather more information to move the process forward, making that long drive to the nation's capital worthwhile.

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