This is an archived article that was published on in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

What's the difference between a painter and an emergency medical technician?

Here in Utah, one of these workers is required to undergo 730 days of training while the other is prepared to enter the workforce after just 28 days. But it's not the medical technician who's required to undergo the more extensive training — it's the painter.

Illogical policies like this are the reason lawmakers across the nation are uniting in their states to reform "occupational licensing" laws — often ridiculous regulations that require workers to undergo extensive training, pass exams and pay fees before they are allowed to go to work in a particular profession.

This problem is definitely present in Utah. Today, 23.8 percent of our state's workforce requires a license to work. Sure, most people understand the need for licenses for doctors and pilots, but there are a number of professions for which licenses simply don't make much sense.

In Utah, 46 of the 102 most common low- to moderate-income occupations require a license, according to the Institute for Justice. This makes us the 13th most broadly and onerously licensed state in the nation.

Consider the requirements for a few specific professions: It takes 233 days to become a barber, 140 days to become a masseuse and 140 days to become a skin care specialist. And aspiring professionals in each of these fields must pass two exams and pay at least $95 in fees. This may not seem like much, but after spending 140 days in training with little,­ if any, pay, every dollar counts, especially when you have bills to pay.

Yet not everyone finds these regulations to be unreasonable. Some argue that occupational licenses are necessary to ensure safety and quality for clients seeking these services. But that's a rather questionable argument.

After all, licensing regulations differ by state, and some localities don't even require licenses for some of the occupations that Utah does, like massage therapy and painting contractors. Doesn't that seem to suggest that other states have simply found these regulations to be unnecessary?

Besides, if an EMT can learn how to save someone's life in 28 days, does a painter really need to spend 700 additional days to learn how to safely paint a wall in your home?

The truth is, licensing regulations often serve to prop up special interests. Existing businesses use them to limit competition and make it harder for new companies and workers to compete with them.

This has had a visible impact on our nation's labor force. In fact, occupational licensing has cost us roughly 2.85 million jobs overall across the nation. But it's not just job seekers these regulations affect. Each year, licensing requirements cost Utah consumers about $800 million in higher costs because of the lack of competition. That adds up to around $1,000 per family per year. This is a perfect example of how overregulation makes life harder and more expensive for everyone.

The absurdity of these regulations is a good reason for all lawmakers — Republicans and Democrats — to unite in order to enact real reform. Both sides can agree that occupational licensing reform is about reducing inequality and giving everyone a better shot at opportunity, especially the people who need it most. After all, studies have shown that occupational licensing actually increases income inequality. It's no wonder federal lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have come together to work toward solutions.

The Obama administration last July highlighted some of the consequences of licensing laws in a "Framework for Policymakers" report. Meanwhile in Congress, both Democrat and Republican lawmakers — including our own Sen. Mike Lee — have been vocal on their opposition to licensing laws.

That's the kind of bipartisanship we need at our state level. And we've already seen it done before – state legislators in 2013 eliminated the licensing requirements for hair braiding, freeing hundreds of people who previously had to spend 467 days in cosmetology training to pursue their careers. And they also snipped the cosmetology requirements from 467 days to 373 days, although that's still far too long.

These are the types of reforms that Utahns are counting on to give them a better shot at success. Now's the chance for lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to truly reform our state's occupational licensing laws.

Evelyn Everton is Utah state director of Americans for Prosperity.