Idaho Gov. Otter Vetoes New Regulations on Sign-Language Interpreters

Published April 24, 2015

Idaho governor Butch Otter (R) vetoed a bill required government licensing by a state board for the practice of interpreting and translating sign language for the hard of hearing.

If House Bill 152 had been signed into law, anyone performing sign language translation in a “general setting” would have had to pay thousands of dollars for government licenses and permits.

‘Slower Employment Growth’

University of Minnesota Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies Professor Morris Kleiner says occupational licenses make it more difficult for people to find employment, reducing employment rates and slowing job growth.

“States that license more workers have much lower employment growth,” he said. “If you compare occupations that are licensed in some states and not in others, those states that license more workers have slower employment growth.”

Kleiner says occupational licensing requirements do not increase quality of services or products for consumers.

“In a lot of cases, the question is, should the input in the production process be licensed, or should it simply be the final product?” he said.

‘Fairly Onerous and Expensive’

Idaho Freedom Foundation Vice President Fred Birnbaum says the bill would have reduced the number of sign-language translators, making things more difficult for people with hearing impairments.

“The sponsor of the legislation actually said it would reduce the number of people who can practice, because the requirements for the license are fairly onerous and expensive,” he said.

Birnbaum says the bill would have had effects far beyond its intended scope.

“This bill requires a license for a sign language interpreter in a general setting, including medical, legal, professional, business and commercial, governmental, post-secondary, video call centers,” he said. If two friends went to buy a TV at Best Buy, that’s a ‘commercial setting.'”

Board Control Seen as Critical

Birnbaum says the bill was poorly written, and gave the government too much power over everyday interactions.

“If you and I were friends, and I was someone who learned some sign language skills but I didn’t want to go through licensing, I was just going to help you buy a TV or a car, I couldn’t do that without a license. It’s so broadly written,” he said. “Their counterclaim is that nobody is going to be charged for doing that; that’s not the intent of the bill. But the bill gives people who are going to get the license control of the board.

“Once they control the board, they’ll have a lot of power over who’s licensed and who can be excluded,” Birnbaum said.

Jeff Reynolds ([email protected]) writes from Portland, Oregon.¬†

Internet Info:

Morris M. Kleiner, Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, “Occupational Licensing: Protecting the Public Interest or Protectionism,”