Martin: Pass the 'Right to Earn a Living' bill

A nail technician completes a manicure.
photo Columnist David Martin
In his 1960 book, "The Conscience of a Conservative," former Arizona senator and Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater wrote, "I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size." His goal was not "to inaugurate new programs," but to eliminate old ones that among other things, "impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden."

Talking with Tennessee state Rep. Martin Daniel, it's hard not to hear the ghost of Goldwater. The Knoxville Republican is a staunch advocate of the free market, individual liberties and putting the government on a Weight Watchers-like diet. He also happens to be the House sponsor of one of my favorite bills introduced in Nashville this year, one that will help undo some of those "unwarranted financial burden(s)" imposed by the state.

It's called the "Right to Earn a Living" bill. The goal of the proposed legislation is very straightforward. It seeks to eliminate unwarranted occupational licensing restrictions that prohibit Tennesseans from entering certain trades.

Let's get one thing straight - we're not talking about anesthesiologists, special education teachers or attorneys here. The heart of this bill is aimed at clearing the way for folks like aspiring hair professionals, nail technicians and auctioneers to pursue their chosen careers. Incredibly, those are some of the most difficult fields to enter in the Volunteer State because of overly strict licensing rules. But Daniel says those barriers haven't always been put in place to protect the health, safety or welfare of Tennesseans. They're often established to keep competition from entering a given industry.

And when competition is strangled, the ripple effect is widespread. As the Beacon Center of Tennessee puts it, "these laws make it harder for people to get good jobs, limit choices and drive up costs for consumers, and insert government where it doesn't belong." Essentially, four things conservatives should loathe.

We like to say that we live in a business-friendly state, but there's nothing business-friendly (unless we mean entrenched business interests) about requiring a manicurist to undergo 53 days of schooling and practice beyond the national average. Or requiring a person to get 70 days of training to earn a shampooing certificate (shampooing!). Or having someone spend two years learning to be an auctioneer. These are expensive and time-consuming wastes.

That's why it's heartening to see the "Right to Earn a Living" bill advancing quickly through committees. Earlier this week, the legislation cleared the Business and Utilities Committee and will be taken up next week by the Government Operations Joint Committee, on which House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, sits. That would be the last major stop, Daniel hopes, before a floor vote can take place.

Every legislative session there are loud headline-grabbing bills introduced in Nashville. They often deal with guns, or Bibles or which religions should be studied by middle schoolers. While some of those really are important, other impactful matters routinely hide in the margins of public awareness. So far in 2016, Daniel's bill has done just that, but if passed, it would benefit residents across the state by creating jobs, offering consumers more options and lowering costs on a good number of services.

Though occupational licensing may not be the most glamorous topic being discussed on Capitol Hill right now, state Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, is right when he says that Daniel's work is "one of the best bills in the legislature this session."

Tennesseans elected a conservative legislative majority to tear down obstacles keeping individuals from enjoying their freedoms. This law, if passed, would do just that.

Contact David Allen Martin at and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.