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After Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed “champion of deregulation” Halsey Beshears to lead the state’s business regulatory agency and orchestrated Florida’s first-ever "Deregathon" in January, occupational licensing reform had great momentum when the legislature convened in March.

A spate of proposed bills trimming occupational licensing red tape affecting 30 percent of Florida’s workforce were introduced, but none were adopted.

Nevertheless, while legislative remedies failed to produce quick results, the process of deregulation and occupational licensing reform is gaining traction.

DeSantis announced Thursday that the Florida Real Estate Commission [FREC] has approved a 50-percent reduction in biennial renewal fees, which will save 200,000 state-licensed real estate professionals about $8.8 million in their cost of doing business through 2023.

“During my first month in office, we held the state's first ever ‘Deregathon’ to gather Florida licensing boards to identify unnecessary regulations and fees to eliminate for Florida workers,” DeSantis tweeted. “I'm proud to announce a direct result from ‘Deregathon’ – a two year 50 [percent] reduction in fees for [R]ealtors. … Let's keep this up.”

FREC approved the fee reductions in March with the Department of Business & Professional Regulation [DBPR] – led by Beshears – endorsing the roll-back last month.

Effective July 1, the two-year license renewal fee will drop from $72 to $36 for licensure renewal for real estate brokers and from $64 to $32 for real estate sales associates or broker branch offices.

The fee reduction will continue through renewal periods for two-year licenses expiring March 31, 2020, Sept. 30, 2020, and March 31, 2021.

“License holders expect the commission to establish reasonable license fees and to act on the authority Florida law provides to reduce these fees when financial circumstances allow,” FREC Patricia Fitzgerald said in a Governor’s Office news release. “I am proud of the work our commission has done in identifying this recommendation and acting on this opportunity for a fee reduction as part of a broader deregulation call by Gov. DeSantis.”

Beshears, a Panhandle Republican who won a fourth House term in November before accepting DeSantis’ DBPR appointment, said in the release that January’s ‘Deregathon’ “helped chart the course for reducing regulatory burdens in Florida’s professional licensing system.”

“Now, within months of starting that conversation,” he continued, “we’re recognizing real progress as the FREC and other boards take the steps to follow through on the recommendations presented earlier this year.”

In 2018, Beshears sponsored House Bill 15, which sought to deregulate occupations such as nail polishers, boxing timekeepers, and hair braiders while streamlining those for barbers, nail specialists and business organizations.

HB 15 passed the House 74-28 but never made it out the three Senate committees it was assigned to.

DeSantis’ appointment of Beshears as DBPR chief, however, encouraged lawmakers to submit a bevy of similar measures in 2019.

Among them was HB 27 and its Senate companion, Senate Bill 1640, a 120-page proposal to loosen or eliminate occupational license requirements imposed by 23 professional licensing boards on nearly 30 percent of Florida’s workforce – the highest percentage of state-regulated workers in the South and fourth-highest in the nation.

The bills made it through combative committee hearings only to idle without introduction on chamber floors.

Proponents argued deregulation would make it easier for Floridians to find careers by trimming back licensing requirements for barbers, auctioneers, landscape architects, hotel interior designers, “princess party” practitioners and many other professions.

In committee testimony and analysis, Justin Pearson, managing attorney with Virginia-based Institute for Justice (IJ), said such regulations are unfair for lower-wage workers, noting state licensing laws for 102 occupations require nearly a year of education or experience, an exam and more than $260 in fees.

Pearson said occupational licensing laws “kill” about 2.8 million U.S. jobs annually and cause U.S. consumers to be overcharged by about $203 billion every year.

Opponents, which included the Florida Retail Federation [FRF], the Florida Auctioneers Association [FAA] and the Florida Association of Cosmetologists & Trade Schools [FACTS], cited concerns over consumer protections, workplace safety and the sheer size of the bill.

Barbers, critics said, would have a 600-hour license curriculum that would preserve the existing standard’s 425-plus hours in safety/sanitation instruction, but leave only 150 or so hours to learn how to cut hair, which would devalue a Florida barber’s license.

Other deregulation bills that withered include HB 3, which would restrict local governments’ authority to impose regulations on businesses, and preempt them from creating their own occupational and professional licensing requirements.

Under HB 3, all existing local business regulations and occupational licensing would automatically expire in 2021 and require an economic impact analysis to be re-adopted.

HB 3 passed the House 88-24 but was never heard by a Senate committee.