New Hampshire Governor Sununu Announces Comprehensive Occupational Licensing Reform

For years, New Hampshire lured new residents with the promise of low taxes and a generally libertarian ethos. Soon, migrants to the country will be spared a significant resettlement headache: getting permission from the government to do the same job you did elsewhere.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, launched bold occupational licensing reform during his annual budget address on Tuesday, promising to sign legislation that broadly recognizes professional licenses issued by other states.

“If you have a substantially similar license and are in good standing in another state, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have a license on day one in New Hampshire,” Sununu said. “We are committed to breaking down regulatory barriers, reducing the cost of doing business here, increasing market competition.”

Additionally, Sununu called for the complete abolition of 34 licenses currently issued by various boards, as well as the abolition of 14 state regulatory boards. He also pointed out that many licensing schemes don’t make much logical sense – and generally have more to do with political power than consumer safety.

“The state doesn’t license the contractor who frames your house, but for some reason we license the person who plants a rose bush in your yard,” Sununu said. “No more.”

Budget speeches, like the president’s State of the Union address, are more about outlining broad policy goals than getting into the minutiae of legislation. Story by Brandon Pratt, Sununu’s Director of Communications Reason that the exact details of the licensing reform will be laid out in HB 2, which should be made public in the coming weeks.

If they follow through on what Sununu promised in his budget address, New Hampshire could claim to have one of the least restrictive licensing regimes in the country. Nineteen states have enacted some form of universal license recognition, although the specifics vary somewhat. But the trend is clearly toward wider recognition. This year, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo (both Republicans) signed major licensing reforms that include easing rules for out-of-state licensees to qualify for licenses in their states.

“Occupational licensing laws are exacerbating New Hampshire’s dire shortage of available workers,” said Meagan Forbes, legislative director at the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit law firm that has challenged unfair licensing laws and advocated for reform. “It is good that Governor Sununu has called for the recognition of other states’ licenses, but more importantly, his leadership will eliminate unnecessary state operating licenses and reduce the licensing burden.”

That represents a potentially big change for the state, which currently ranks in the bottom half of all states for licensing burden, according to a recent IJ report.

Sununu’s proposal is sure to face opposition in the legislature — anti-competition rules always have political support from voters who benefit from protectionism — and it’s too early to judge the results. Still, he deserves credit for his goal of increasing the number of New Hampshire residents who can “live free” without having to get permission from the state.

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