Regulators steer vans, trucks in the wrong direction

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Bluegrass Beacon column by Jim Waters

When it comes to barbershops, moving companies and food vendor trucks, Kentucky regulators have a curious penchant for shielding established businesses from fresh competition.

A recent Institute for Justice study concludes the Bluegrass State has the 15th most burdensome licensing laws in America.

Do Kentuckians really believe that — as the study reports — it should take 420 days of education and experience to become a government-approved cosmetologist, 620 days to become a licensed barber, or a whopping 1,825 days before being allowed to teach preschool?

Of course not. So why do regulators put myriad barriers in the way of finding work in Kentucky?

Perhaps looking into a couple of specific industries could provide some clues.

As of February, food truck vendors in Lexington, for example, must go through four separate city bureaucracies before being permitted to serve up foot-longs.

Does anyone else find it distasteful that hardworking Kentuckians trying to earn a few bucks grilling hot dogs for the folks must first obtain permission from a city’s building inspection and planning divisions?

Even after hoops are jumped and trucks are parked, the vending permits last only 14 days, and are good only for a single location. Once the 14 days expire, food trucks must change locations and go through the ridiculous permitting process all over again.

And whereas brick-and-mortar restaurants are allowed to use public sidewalks for outside seating, food truck vendors are limited to doing business on private property.

Add to these onerous rules the fact that food trucks aren’t even allowed to operate near standing restaurants and you have a pretty good hint for why such regulations exist: Established businesses have the ear of regulators and aren’t keen on new competitors.

Such cozy business-government relationships aren’t confined to where the hot dog guy can park his stand.

Try starting a moving company in Kentucky and you will discover you first must gain a Certificate of Necessity — CON — to operate legally.

This appalling law requires – and I’m not kidding – entrepreneurs to get the permission of existing movers before they can get paid to relocate Aunt Susie from Lexington to Louisville.

Being required to seek permission from would-be competitors before opening shop is so contemptible that R.J. Bruner, founder of Wildcat Moving Co. who has a master’s degree in business from the University of Kentucky, said he did not know about the requirement and would never have thought it possible for such a law even to exist.  

Bruner said his company – which has not yet obtained a certificate of need – was hit with $2,000 fines on at least four different occasions when the firm’s moving trucks were stopped by state law enforcement officers.

 “It’s been a nightmare,” Bruner said. “The law doesn’t make any sense – it’s unconstitutional and corrupt.”

It also doesn’t make sense why Senate Bill 132, which exempts moving companies from certificate requirements, has languished in the House after passing the Senate during this year’s legislative session. 

Fortunately, Bruner is not without help.

The Pacific Legal Foundation is representing him in a federal lawsuit against state officials for denying his right to earn a living, which is protected by the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

If Bruner is forced to get a certificate to keep the doors of his company open, then all entrepreneurs in the commonwealth will have seen yet a bit more of their liberty slip away.

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute. Reach him at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com.