In the final moments of the 86th Legislative Session in Austin, a bill extending the life of the State Board of Plumbing Examiners was killed in the Texas House, thus resulting in the end of licensed plumbing in Texas and one of the biggest accidental victories in occupational license reform in Texas.
At least, that was supposed to be the outcome. Now, hopes for a free plumbing market in Texas appear to have gone down the drain.
Since then, plumbing trade groups have been vocally demanding the legislature return for a special session in order to protect its occupational license scheme, looking out for their own protectionist barriers to entry and trying to flush out the competition. On Tuesday morning, Gov. Greg Abbott took to Twitter to say that they need not worry:
“We’ve got this. The Legislature has given the Governor many tools in my toolbox to extend the State Board of Plumbing Examiners for two years without needing to call a special session,” said Abbott. “We will let you know very soon. Don’t worry.”
While it’s unclear exactly what avenue Abbott is planning on taking to sidestep the state Legislature and continue the agency’s operation until the next legislative session, the vow comes in stark contrast to Abbott’s previous comments on occupational license reform.
“Proponents of occupational licensing argue it ensures the safety and reliability of products and services,” wrote Abbott in 2014 in a report on occupational licensing. “Such claims are dubious, however. In a competitive and free market, one must always stay ahead of the next competitor or risk losing business.”
His report continues to detail the negative economic effects that come with such licensing:
The practice of state licensure is so ubiquitous that it rarely receives the attention it deserves, but a growing body of evidence and research reveals that occupational licensing schemes can have broad, negative effects on the job market. One study of national trends found that occupational licensing programs reduce the rate of job growth by 20 percent. The same study estimated that the total economic cost of licensing regulations from reduced job growth, decreased competition, higher prices, and discouraged innovation and investment falls between $34.8 billion and $41.7 billion per year.
The Lone Star State is no stranger to absurd occupational licensing. As one of the states with the highest occupational licensing burdens in the country, recent legislative sessions have seen debates over licensing interior designers and eyebrow threaders.
As for the plumbers, Abbott is expected to announce his plan for extending their regulatory board in the coming weeks. Without his intervention, the board will cease to license plumbers on September 1.