Illinois gardeners, growers and landscapers are ready for spring.
With the “last frost” date approaching for most of the state, planning, building, tilling and planting will soon be in full swing.
But hold on …
You got a license for that?
A bill passed out of the Illinois Senate would create a new hedge maze for anyone with a green thumb. It’s an unfortunate example of just how confusing and unnecessary new licensing regimes can be. And unsurprisingly, it’s being pushed by a special interest group looking to grow its own bottom line.
Senate Bill 1899 says that anyone working in the field of landscape architecture must obtain a special license from the state. That means passing an exam, and you’ll need to jump through some high hoops just to take it.
You can either 1) complete a course of study and graduate from an accredited landscape architecture school and gather two years of experience under the supervision of a licensed landscape architect; or 2) get a bachelor’s degree in surveying, urban planning, architecture or engineering and work for six years under a licensed landscape architect.
It’s an expensive, yearslong slog.
But what counts as landscape architecture? And how has the field been functioning without state licensure for so long?
The bill is maddeningly broad, making it unclear what Illinoisans actually need a license to do. The following is real language from the bill, offering a sample of what landscape architecture projects include, but are not limited to. Keep in mind that this is a bill with a stated purpose of improving public safety:
“Developing landscape architecture design concepts.”
“Establishing form and aesthetic elements of a site.”
“Determining vegetative systems for soil conservation.”
“Planting and ground cover.”
The bill says it should not be construed to prohibit landscape contractors from doing their work without this license. Who counts as a landscape contractor under the bill is unclear.
“I would have to tell aspiring entrepreneurs that they might be committing a crime if they advise people on how to plant a garden,” said Beth Kregor, director of the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship at the University of Chicago Law School. The clinic specializes in helping lower-income small business owners navigate rules and regulations.
“Many entrepreneurs would give up on earning an honest living in landscaping,” Kregor said. “We would never know how many budding businesses were choked out.”
There’s no denying what talented landscape architects can do. A pioneer of the field, Jens Jensen, was a key player in designing some of Chicago’s most important public spaces, including Columbus Park, Humboldt Park and Garfield Park.
But what made Jensen great wasn’t any piece of paper from a state licensing board. It was his artistry, integrity and hard work.
This bill isn’t about protecting consumers. It’s about protecting incumbents.
Hundreds of people representing the American Society of Landscape Architects filed witness slips in favor of the bill. They get paid a premium by limiting competition. If the college student with a truck down the street is doing unlicensed landscape architecture work, an anointed architect can call up the state.
This kind of misguided overreach is nothing new in Illinois.
A cosmetologist must complete 350 days of educational training to get a state license. An EMT can be licensed after just 37.
In order to practice as a sign language interpreter, Illinoisans must pay a $900 fee, complete more than four years of education and pass two exams. Meanwhile, 29 states don’t license this profession at all.
When looking to reduce risk in any profession, lawmakers must start with the least restrictive measures — private certifying organizations and voluntary bonding or insurance, for example.
Only when nongovernmental means have utterly failed should the state get involved. Even then, lawmakers should start with less invasive methods, such as laws against deceptive trade practices.
Licensing should be the last resort. Instead, in the case of the landscape architects, it appears to be a grab for a different kind of green.