The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Opinion

August 21, 2013

Why license for health but skip the inspections?

The Iowa Department of Public Health houses 19 job licensing boards overseeing thousands of workers, from barbers and athletic trainers to dietitians and funeral directors. The department is also responsible for regulating some of the businesses employing these individuals.

Except it doesn’t.

A few months ago, The Des Moines Register’s opinion staff reported the department had not conducted routine inspections of beauty salons, even though Iowa law requires it to do so. The failure to inspect exposes an obvious hypocrisy: The state decides it’s important to regulate these businesses for public health reasons but then never bothers to inspect them to see if those public health concerns are being properly addressed.

On Wednesday, the state auditor criticized the agency for this failure to inspect beauty salons, as well as for its failure to inspect funeral homes and mortuaries, which is also required by law. The auditor recommended the agency “take the necessary steps to comply with the Code of Iowa or should seek repeal of the Code sections.”

The health department is already working on doing the latter. In fact, both state licensing boards overseeing these businesses have been moving toward getting the law changed to read that it “may” inspect, rather than it “shall” inspect.

Perhaps it is a waste of public money and state workers’ time to conduct regular inspections of more than 4,000 hair salons and nearly 600 funeral homes in Iowa. The agency doesn’t seem to have the resources to do such a job. It already compensates the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals to conduct investigations of salons. But the state should not have simply ignored the law all these years.

This is just another example of Iowa’s convoluted statutes related to job licensing — and another reason why Iowa lawmakers need to revisit those laws.

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