The Bay State's licensing system is riddled with archaic regulations that put cockeyed requirements between would-be workers and their new careers, according to a new study that notes it's harder to become a licensed barber than a licensed EMT in Massachusetts, where even home entertainment installers have to be licensed to plug in a TV and DVD player.
The report by the Virginia-based Institute for Justice slams the moneymaking regs, which pour more than $22 million annually into state coffers, as burdensome and irrational barriers to mostly low- and moderate-income jobs - criticisms not lost on Gov. Deval Patrick, whose administration is already months into a planned two-year review to determine what can be changed, streamlined and even tossed out completely.
'Not to put my own profession down, but I would say an EMT, who I assume is saving lives, is a lot more important than having a good haircut,' said Robert Dello Russo, owner of the Boston Barber Co. in the North End and Beacon Hill and one of several Hub hair maestros miffed by the mandatory 1,000 hours that trainees spend in school.
Among the study's most striking findings:
· EMTs are subject to 26 days of training, a mere blink of an eye compared to the 733 days for Bay State barbers - which is nearly double the national average - and 233 days for cosmetologists.
· Commercial sheet metal workers are required to have more than three years of training before they're licensed, which is nearly 2.5 times the national average and the most of any state on the East Coast.
· Massachusetts is one of just three states that license home entertainment installers, and charges the most in the country: $212.
· There's currently a bill in the State House that, if passed, would require licensing of interior designers - an occupation only three other states license and is considered the most 'burdensome' field to break into by the Institute for Justice survey.
'Some of (the requirements) may be because (the state) is interested in making money from fees, but more often it's because those who work in the industries want to protect themselves from competition, and they're willing to find a sympathetic legislator to sponsor a bill to make that happen,' said David Carpenter, co-author of the report and director of strategic research at the institute, a civil liberties law firm.
Patrick, who has won rave reviews from small business administrations for his work in tackling the system's red tape, has said he plans to analyze 1,000 regulations by year's end and 2,000 by the close of 2013.
But how far they go remains to be seen. The proposed reforms so far don't call for eliminating any license categories, and business leaders warn changes may have to survive the legislature, where many licenses were created.
'I served in the legislature. It's hard to say no,' said Bill Vernon, Massachusetts state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. 'There's some legislator somewhere or some constituent somewhere who wants that protection (of the license).'