Should you have to get a license from the government to mow lawns?
Until recently, teenagers in Gardendale, Alabama looking to make some extra money during the summer had to do just that before getting to work.
Gardendale has a business license ordinance that requires all “businesses” that receive payment for services rendered in the city limits to get a $110 business license.
Alainna Paris, 15, apparently wasn’t aware of this ordinance. She committed the grave crime of mowing her grandparents’ (and grandparents’ neighbors’) lawns without a business license.
A professional lawn care employee notified one of the neighbors about their complicity in this crime — and threatened to call City Hall on the 15-year-old girl for operating her “business” without a license.
Paris’s story was picked up by local and national media, where the ordinance was rightfully the subject of much ridicule and mockery. The city council amended the ordinance last night to specify that the law doesn’t apply to “young people” working part-time while in school.
This story is a good example of the main purpose that many occupational licenses serve. Special interest groups will often say licensing is to protect the health and safety of consumers, but the Gardendale story is a clear example of incumbent business owners using an ordinance to protect themselves from outside competition.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to draw the line between which occupations should require licenses and which shouldn’t. However, a good starting place to me seems to be: if it’s a service that many individuals routinely do for themselves, then it shouldn’t require licensure. Heart surgeon? Yes, a license is needed. Mowing the lawn? No license required.
It’s easy to dismiss this story as an outlier, but many states regulate other industries that don’t require much formal education.
Alabama requires a license for 47 out of 102 moderate-income occupations.
Arkansas requires a license for 52 out of 102, according to the Institute for Justice (IJ).
For example, it takes about five times more required training to get a license to work as a massage therapist than it does to be licensed to work as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
I’m glad teens will now be able to mow lawns legally without a license, but states like Alabama and Arkansas should examine other industries where occupational licensing also acts as a barrier to entry.