Traverse City Record-Eagle

Op-Ed Columns

April 22, 2012

Jack Lessenberry: Deregulation in Mich.

If there are two things Marie Donigan knows, they are Lansing and landscape architecture. The Royal Oak native had a long career as a landscape architect before getting into politics. She served six years in the Michigan House, the longest term limits now allow. And she accomplished something for her first profession just before she left at the end of 2010.

"In my last session, we finally passed bills to license landscape architects," said the 57-year-old Democrat.

Licensing solved a big problem, she said.

"Every state except Michigan requires licensing for landscape architects.

"Federal and state agencies require licensing for professionals who want to bid on government projects. Our former status put Michigan firms at a disadvantage."

Passing the licensing bill gave her a sense of accomplishment. But now, everything she did seems likely to be undone.

Gov. Rick Snyder set up a "regulatory reinvention" advisory committee to look into the possibility of the state deregulating various occupations. It released a stunning report this week recommending abolishing nine occupational boards and ending regulations on 18 occupations — including landscape architects, speech pathologists, dieticians, nutritionists and even those providing respiratory care.

Deregulating some of the affected occupations may well pose little potential harm to consumers — auctioneers, for instance.

But others set off red flags. A spokesman for the Michigan Speech-Language-Hearing Association said they were stunned by the news. Until legislation was passed in 2009, Michigan was one of only two states that didn't require speech pathologists to be licensed professionals. It took time to agree on a procedure, but the licensing process was supposed to be complete by next year.

Now, things are again uncertain. Snyder, who was off visiting the troops in Afghanistan, didn't immediately react to the report, which was announced by the somewhat oddly named Office of Regulatory Reinvention. But its recommendations were very much in keeping with the spirit of his administration.

The governor has been outspoken in favor of streamlining government and limiting regulation, especially when it affects job creation. That was very much on the mind of Steven Hilfinger, who heads the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

He told the Gongwer News Service, "This study found that each occupation that a state regulated "¦ would experience a decrease in the rate of job growth by 20 percent on average." Critics shot back, however, that if that meant keeping the unqualified and incompetent out, it was well worth it. But state officials said public safety concerns were taken into consideration.

Rob Nederhood, deputy director of the Office of Regulatory Reinvention, said "in a number of cases, the criteria we looked at was whether there was a clear public safety benefit to the regulations." They concluded that "in many of these cases, the committee felt the government doesn't need to be involved.

"There are private certifications that serve the same function."

One 48-year-old speech pathologist who didn't want to be identified agreed, at least so far as her profession was concerned.

The woman, who has practiced for more than 20 years, said her profession was already monitored and regulated by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.

But she still said she was in favor of licensing as an extra safeguard, even though it would cost her money. And the woman, who often works in a hospital setting, was critical of the governor's decision to regulate certain other occupations, including acupuncturists and those involved in respiratory care.

Nederhood responded with what sounded like classic libertarian thinking. "If there's a bad actor out there, their reputation would suffer and you have the Bureau of Consumer Protection or legal action for that," he said.

That may be true. But nobody is likely to want to spend an hour on Google before hiring a respiratory therapist or getting a security alarm system.

Dawn Kutney, a consultant for the state speech pathology organization, said if licensing is abandoned, it would be harder for any professional moving in or out of state "because the standards are different. It also affects how we are paid for our services."

That was echoed by Donigan, the former legislator.

"Landscape architects design all sorts of structures, including public safety and welfare stuff. It makes me plenty mad that some bureaucrat libertarian is going to undo what we did without even asking us why we did it."

The next step is likely up to the governor. Other occupations slated for deregulation include community planners, consumer finance services, foresters, polygraph examiners and insurance solicitors; a complete list is available online at www.michigan.gov/orr.

Just asking: Virtually every Republican in Michigan's legislature is opposed to the health care plan President Obama managed to push through Congress two years ago. When asked, many say their main objection was its "unconstitutional" provision requiring people to purchase private health insurance.

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But last week many of the same Republicans who say the insurance mandate is unconstitutional voted for a bill that allows motorcyclists to ride without a helmet "¦ if they buy at least $20,000 of insurance.

Is there a contradiction here?

1
Text Only