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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Too much regulation

Is legislation to regulate painters really solving a problem?


When it comes to free enterprise in the U.S. there is always a balancing act between the rights of Americans to engage in private contracts for work performed and the need for regulation to protect the public from unscrupulous actors or dangerous products.
A bill introduced in the Legislature recently, that would require state licensing of anyone who provides painting services for hire, appears to be regulation that goes too far. The measure, co-authored by Duluth area Sen. Jen McEwen, would establish a licensing requirement for painters and would also place restrictions on the ability of the public to purchase larger quantities of oil-based paints.
This strikes us, at best, as a solution in search of a problem. At worst, it looks like an effort by established painting companies to limit competition from the many individuals who do a little painting on the side and, without the overhead of a larger company, may be able to get the job done for less.
There are plenty of such folks in our area, many of whom serve our many lake home and cabin owners, and they do quality work at an affordable price. Some may opt to go through the hassle of applying and paying for a state license, but many won’t bother. They’ll just quit offering painting services. That will have the effect of limiting the supply of painters, which is almost certain to increase the cost for consumers when it comes time to hire a painter. That’s already a problem in many other trades, where the costs are often not only high, but where it can be difficult to find anyone to provide such services. We need to expand supply in the trades, not reduce it.
We recognize that there are likely a few folks out there who may try to abuse consumers by using poor quality paint products or showing poor workmanship. But that could happen regardless of this legislation because unscrupulous operators likely will continue to offer painting services with or without the new law. What’s more, the mere fact someone is licensed is no guarantee that they do quality work. And trust us when we say that if a consumer ends up with a poorly handled project, the state of Minnesota isn’t coming to the rescue whether or not the state has issued a license.
That’s where the old adage “buyer beware” still plays a role. Smart consumers know to check references before hiring any kind of professional for work on their home or cabin. They can also provide direction to those they hire. The best way for a consumer to protect themselves from a painter who uses a substandard product is to select and purchase the paint for a project themselves. But that would actually be harder under this legislation since it limits the type of paint products the public can purchase.
We understand that many other occupations have licensing and certification requirements, but it could be argued that some of those have already contributed to the limited supply of professionals like plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. In the past, we had part-time “handymen” who were available generally for smaller projects that homeowners either didn’t have the time or the skills to take on themselves. Many of them have disappeared, or limited the types of jobs they take on, in part due to licensing requirements. This legislation will only add to that trend.
At a time when the public is concerned about inflation, does Minnesota really need a new law that is virtually guaranteed to increase the cost of a needed service? We suspect most Minnesotans would answer with a resounding “No.”