Today, one out of every three Americans needs a license from the government before they can legally work. Back in the 1950s, it was only one out of every 20 workers. So licensing has gone way beyond doctors and lawyers and into some pretty strange territory, like:
1. Fortune Tellers
You can’t predict the future without a license in Massachusetts. It’s also against the law to have “pretended fortune telling,” as opposed to, you know, authentic fortune telling. Unlicensed soothsayers can face $100 in fines. (Of course, if they were any good, they would know when the cops are coming.)
Alabama, Louisiana, New Hampshire and Tennessee all require a license to shampoo (human) hair, while the Volunteer State has some ridiculously over-the-top requirements. A “shampoo technician” there needs 300 hours of training “in the practice and theory of shampooing,” before taking two exams on how to wash someone’s hair.
3. Horse Massagers
Arizona is trying to put Celeste Kelly out of a job. Celeste is a certified horse massage therapist. But in Arizona, massaging animals is illegal unless you have a license in veterinary medicine. Otherwise, you can face up to $3,500 in fines and six months in jail.
Of course, if someone wants to massage humans, they don’t need to go to med school. Four-legged friends shouldn’t be any different. Now Celeste is taking the state vet board to court.
In Nebraska, massaging horses requires a license in veterinary medicine. So Karen Hough, a horse masseuse, was at one point threatened with 20 years in prison and $25,000 in fines (the same penalty as manslaughter) if she massaged any more horses.
She tried complying with the law, but according to the North Platte Bulletin, “first she was told she had to graduate from veterinary school, then she was told that new rules were being written, but those rules never became clear. The licensing process is tightly controlled by the veterinarian’s association.”
Louisiana is the only state that requires florists to get a license. Until 2010, wannabe florists had to demonstrate their skills at flower arranging which was judged by licensed florists, a.k.a. their future competition. Luckily, that exam was scrapped, but Louisiana florists still need to shell out hundreds of dollars each year for their license. Plus, as one law professor points out, unlicensed florists are hardly a menace to society: “Suppose the florist puts too many roses in an arrangement? What’s the harm that’s going to come from that?”
5. Hair Braiders
African hair braiding is an all-natural beauty practice that doesn’t use any potentially hazardous chemicals. But some states treat unlicensed hair braiding as a crime. Isis Brantley knows this first-hand. As she recounted in a recent Huffington Post op-ed, “sixteen years ago, I was arrested by seven undercover cops, handcuffed and dragged out of my own salon in Texas. I was guilty of the ‘crime’ of braiding hair without a cosmetology license.”
After a decade long struggle, she finally got a license to braid. But she still can’t teach braiding, unless she converts her school into a barber college.
Today, 24 states mandate a cosmetology license for braiders. In fact, Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota require braiders get 2,100 hours of training, even though barely any of those hours actually teach natural hair braiding.
6. Interior Designers
Only three states, Florida, Louisiana and Nevada, and Washington, D.C. license interior designers. But to get a license, entrepreneurs have to complete six years of training. To put that in perspective, an emergency medical technician only needs about a month of training in Florida.
Since 47 states don’t license this trade, license supporters have to resort to bizarre claims to keep the regulation. One interior designer who testified before the Florida statehouse claimed that deregulation would be “contributing to 88,000 deaths every year.”
7. Eyebrow Threaders
Using a simple cotton thread, eyebrow threaders can quickly remove unwanted hair. But in states like Texas, regulators are cracking down on threaders. Entrepreneurs in the Lone Star State have to take 750 hours of classes at cosmetology schools that can cost upwards of $20,000 to comply with the law. Incredibly, not a single one of those hours is required to teach how to thread eyebrows. A group of threaders sued Texas; their case reached the Texas Supreme Court. A decision will come out in the coming months.
8. Makeup Artists
Teaching someone how to put on makeup without a government permission slip is illegal in 36 states. Even worse, many of these states demand makeup artists get a cosmetologist or esthetician license, which covers many skills they don’t even use. For example, in Nevada, these entrepreneurs are forced to spend “700 hours in a classroom to learn about subjects that have nothing to do with makeup artistry, like how to cut hair, wax eyebrows and manicure nails.” The state’s restrictions are so strict they triggered a lawsuit.
9. Tour Guides
Talking to strangers is legal. Walking with strangers is legal. But being paid to talk and walk with strangers is against the law in a handful of cities. Unlicensed tour guides can land three months in prison in Washington, D.C. and five months in jail in New Orleans.
10. Teeth Whiteners
Over-the-counter teeth-whitening kits are completely safe and sold in drugstores. But selling the exact same products at a salon and offering customers a clean, comfortable place to sit is illegal in 14 states. If you’re not a licensed dentist and you offer to whiten teeth, you can face one-year imprisonment and a $5,000 fine in Alabama. It’s even worse in Georgia: the unlicensed can face up to five years in prison. Trisha Eck (pictured above) had to shut down her teeth-whitening business and is suing the Georgia Board of Dentistry.
Unsurprisingly, dental boards are some of the biggest backers of licensing teeth whiteners. By eliminating the competition, dentists can jack up prices, charging anywhere from twice to six times as much. Did I mention it’s an $11 billion industry?
11. Tree Trimmers
Seven states require a license to trim and remove trees. In Maryland, someone needs three years of training to become a licensed “tree expert.” Otherwise, it’s illegal to get paid to trim, prune or remove someone’s trees. Unsurprisingly, these requirements make it really difficult for someone to get rid of unwanted trees, which was a bit of a problem after Hurricane Sandy.
Even more bizarre, Carolyn Scharg was hauled before the “tree board” of Calabasas, Calif. For cutting off a few branches of a neighbor’s oak tree without a permit, she had to pay $10,000 in “mitigation fees.”
Bonus Craziness: Why Can’t Chuck Get His Business Off the Ground?
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