Missouri Bill Would Make Licenses Voluntary for Massage Therapists, Barbers, Pro Wrestlers

Life in Missouri soon could become less stressful. A new bill would make licenses voluntary for massage therapists and other occupations. Under state law, unlicensed massage therapy is a Class A misdemeanor, so masseuses and masseurs could face up to one year in prison and/or a $1,000 fine. To put that in perspective, massaging without a license is in the same criminal category as assault in the Show-Me State.

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But if HB 659 passes, massage therapists would no longer be mandated to take hundreds of hours of courses before opening their businesses. If someone falsely advertises that he has a license when he isn’t actually licensed, that person would face up to 15 days in jail and/or a $300 fine. So far, the bill has garnered 9 cosponsors in the House.

The full list of occupations that could be liberated from mandated licensing includes cosmetologists, barbers, massage therapists, interior designers, registered geologists, embalmers, athlete agents, private investigators and landscape architects. In addition, professional wrestlers, kick boxers, karate masters and MMA fighters would no longer be required to obtain a license as a “contestant” to fight within the state of Missouri.

According to License to Work, a policy report by the Institute for Justice, Missouri places burdensome licensing requirements on a whole host of occupations. For example, an emergency medical technician needs 23 days of training to obtain a license. But barriers to entry are onerously higher for less dangerous professions: a manicurist requires 93 days, a massage therapist 117 days, while barbers and cosmetologists need 350 days of training, or over 15 times as much experience as an EMT. Rather than protecting the health and safety of the public, these stiff training requirements hobble new entrants, preventing competition.

State Rep. Paul Curtman cosponsored the licensing reforms in order to create jobs, cut red tape and “provoke a discussion on regulatory reform.” It’s certainly been provocative: Cosmetologists have lobbied hard against the bill. One owner of a cosmetology college and hair museum called the bill “crazy…I thought it was a misprint.”

But there are a number of problems with the current state-mandated licensing system for cosmetologists. First, cosmetology in Missouri is a very broad field, including estheticians, manicurists and hairdressers. The state’s cosmetology board has even held disciplinary hearings for unlicensed African hair braiding.

Second, there are other alternatives to protect consumers in lieu of mandated licensing. Angie’s List is used by over 1.5 million households to find and review quality professionals. There are also privately-run certification nonprofits, like the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), which has certified over 350,000 auto mechanics and specialists. Quality auto mechanics get to distinguish themselves through ASE certification. Meanwhile, consumers who don’t value credentials or don’t want to pay a premium for superior service are still free to choose non-ASE certified businesses. If HB 659 passes, a similar model could emerge in Missouri.

Earlier this month, IJ reported on an Indiana bill that could sunset or eliminate a dozen occupational licenses , which was passed by the state senate. Back in February, Salt Lake County, Utah deregulated dozens of licenses and legalized kids’ lemonade stands.

-- Nick Sibilla

Nick Sibilla is a writer at the Institute for Justice

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