FILE - Barber, occupational licensing / licenses

Occupational licensing reform seemed a slam-dunk when the Legislature convened in March after Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed “champion of deregulation” Halsey Beshears to lead the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation [DBPR] and then orchestrated the state’s first-ever “Deregathon.”

However, following the removal of the Senate’s version of a stalled 120-page House bill from Senate floor consideration Thursday, the occupational licensing deregulation effort that held so much promise two months ago is now likely dead for the year.

Senate Bill 1640 had been temporarily postponed three consecutive days on the Senate floor before sponsor Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Bartow, asked Senate President Bill Galvano Thursday to permanently remove it from the calendar.

“Mr. President, I would like to permanently postpone this bill,” Albritton asked from the floor.

“Show the bill temporarily postponed, indefinitely,” Galvano responded and it was banished from the docket with only one full day left in the session.

With that, that was that for occupational licensing reform during the 2019 legislative session, despite DeSantis identifying it as “a top priority of my administration.”

Like SB 1640, the House companion bill, House Bill 27, had also successfully made it through a combative committee hearing process only to idle without introduction thus far on chamber floors.

The bills sought to loosen or eliminate occupational license requirements imposed by 23 professional licensing boards on nearly 30 percent of Florida’s workforce – the percentage of state-regulated workers in the South and four-highest in the nation.

Proponents argued the deregulation bills 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 the regulations are unfair for lower wage workers, women and minorities, noting state licensing laws for 102 lower-income 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 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 in challenging the notion that reducing licensing requirements in Florida would benefit practitioners in those fields should they leave Florida.

Ultimately, SB 1640/HB 27 may mot advance as far as Beshears’ deregulation proposal got last year.

A Panhandle Republican who won a fourth House term in November before accepting DeSantis’ DBPR appointment, in 2018 Beshears sponsored HB 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 such as architecture services and interior designers.

HB 15 passed the House in a 74-28 vote but never made it out of any of the three Senate committees it was assigned to. This year’s version of Beshears’ bill never made it onto chamber floors.

SB 1640/HB 27 were among a spate of deregulation and preemption bills filed early this year that are now languishing as the Legislature prepares to conclude the session with Saturday’s expected quick adoption of a proposed $91.1 billion fiscal year 2020 state budget.

Among notable deregulation bills that are also withering as time runs out on the session is HB 3, sponsored by Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, which would restrict local governments’ authority to impose regulations on businesses and preempt them from creating their own occupational and professional licensing requirements, which would be the exclusive authority of the state beginning July 1, 2019.

Under HB 3, all existing local business regulations and occupational licensing would automatically expire in 2021 and require an economic impact analysis before being re-adopted for no more than two years before undergoing required review.

HB 3 passed the House on April 11 in an 88-24 vote but was never heard by a Senate committee.