A section of my recent report on Modernizing North Carolina’s Outdated Occupational Licensing Practices pointed out an additional reason for licensing reform in NC: the “ongoing federal fight” against occupational licensing.

A new article in National Affairs shows that this fight is indeed ongoing. North Carolina policymakers should be keeping a watchful eye on these developments:

Recently proposed bipartisan legislation by congressmen Tim Walberg and Henry Cuellar — along with its companion bill in the Senate — demonstrates how federal funds could be used responsibly to encourage licensing reform. The New Hope and Opportunity through the Power of Employment Act, or New HOPE Act, would give states the ability to use existing federal workforce-training funds to identify and eliminate licensing requirements that pose unnecessary barriers for workers.

While the idea of using federal money to encourage states to adopt such reforms is not new, this legislation differs from most other proposals in that it would permit states to use only existing funds, rather than calling for new sources of funding. …

Republican senators Ben Sasse and Mike Lee have taken a somewhat different approach. They recently introduced the Alternatives to Licensing that Lower Obstacles to Work Act, which would permit the D.C. government to impose occupational-licensing requirements only “where less restrictive regulation will not suffice to protect consumers from present, significant, and substantiated harms that threaten public health, safety, or welfare.” The bill would also recognize a general “freedom to engage in an occupation” and require D.C. to demonstrate an “important government interest” before imposing any licensure requirements. In other words, licensure would have to be directly tied to health and safety — not used as a backdoor means to stop people from competing in the marketplace.

I counsel keeping a watchful eye, but taking proactive steps toward reform would be far preferable. To that end I’ve been detailing here a promising reform that would transform the state’s approach to occupational regulation entirely. Please read my continuing series on The Right to Earn a Living Act for more about that.