While many Texas families rightfully fear violent criminals and child predators, no police alert has yet gone out for an interior decorator on the loose. Yet, as the Legislature continues to produce solutions in search of problems, a pending bill would criminalize thousands of interior decorators.

This legislation is part of a raft of bills that would license new occupations ranging from interior designers to auto mechanics, forcing those who do not qualify to choose between committing a crime and earning a living.

The House Licensing & Administrative Procedures Committee recently passed a bill that prohibits non-licensed interior designers from consulting on any commercial decorating project. Residential work that involves the nebulous “identification, research, or development of a creative solution to a problem relating to the function or quality of an interior environment” would also be off-limits to non-licensed designers. Transgressions could result in criminal penalties of up to $5,000 a day.

Decorators would be out of luck because few could surmount the barriers to becoming a designer. With the fox guarding the henhouse, being licensed as a designer would require a person to earn a degree and pass an exam, both of which would be controlled by national designers’ organizations.

Indeed, the push to expand occupational licensing often results from one group’s attempt to regulate its competitors out of existence.

Another bill would require all auto mechanics and auto repair shops to obtain licenses from the government and comply with a laundry list of regulations. Among other things, auto repair workers would likely have to pass a written exam. An owner of an engine repair shop testifying against the bill noted that he employs a disabled Vietnam veteran who can rebuild an engine in his sleep, but cannot read or write.

This is an effort by some of the more elite auto repair businesses to crowd out the competition. At least 40 percent of shops would not meet the insurance and other requirements in the legislation. Not only does the bill include a criminal penalty, it also authorizes regulators to shut off the utilities at any auto repair shop found to be out of compliance. When a supporting witness was asked by a legislator whether his group of auto repair shops could support limiting the legislation to Harris County as an experiment, he said, “The first thing that comes to mind would be that all the good technicians in Harris County would flee to go to someplace where they weren’t government regulated.”

He’s right. A University of Minnesota study of occupational licensing found that “occupational licensing reduces employment growth in states that are licensed relative to those that are not regulated.” It found states that licensed dieticians and nutritionists and librarians experienced 20 percent lower employment growth. University of Texas at Austin Economics Professor Dan Hammermesh estimated that the deadweight loss to society from occupational licensing is between $34.8 billion and $41.7 billion per year.

Policymakers should consider several factors in deciding whether to regulate new occupations. Is there a direct threat to public health and safety? Is there such a substantial knowledge disparity that consumers cannot select and evaluate a provider? What are the costs of regulation? And what private alternatives exist to a one-size-fits-all government system?

For example, there are respected private, voluntary certification providers for auto mechanics, such as the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, whose seal is commonly recognized. Interior decorators are among dozens of home service providers rated by consumers in most major cities on angieslist.com.

Both the interior designer and auto repair shop bills appears to have stalled for now, but Texas still has more than 150 licensed occupations. Many of these licensure schemes should be repealed, and any new ones should not contain criminal penalties.

The Sunset Commission recommended that “criminal penalties should exist only for agencies overseeing practices that can have dire consequences on the public health and welfare.” UUnder any standard, interior decorators pose no threat to public health and welfare.

When a Texan needs a license from the government to pick out drapes, surely it is time to bring down the curtains on expanding the scope of occupational licensing.

Marc Levin, Esq. is the Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin.