Free Societies

Beacon Center shines light for new job opportunities with occupational licensing reform in Tennessee


At its heart, the American Dream promises a nation where everyone can build a better, richer, and freer life. This is a country where hard work and an entrepreneurial spirit makes prosperity a possibility for all. But when government regulations put up barriers that limit opportunities to work, that dream is violated.

Unnecessary occupational licensing is one of the greatest examples of this sort of violation, as people who want to work are actually prevented from using their skills because of government-mandated certification. In Tennessee, the Beacon Center, an Atlas Network partner, has succeeded in getting many of these restrictive laws repealed faster than any other state in the country.

Until recently, the barrier to entry to become a barber, auctioneer, or therapist was too high for many Tennesseans to overcome because of government bureaucracy. The Beacon Center’s hard work has led to a series of passed State House bills (HB 2080, 2248, 0747 and 2150) as well as State Senate bills (SB 2466, 2465, 0814, and 2127) which eliminate overly burdensome license restrictions and allow people to pursue their dream careers.

Many of these Tennesseans include former inmates who now have the chance to rebuild their lives through self-employment. Often established businesses refuse to hire people who have been convicted of crimes, which means that self-employment or a return to crime is sometimes the only option for those recently released from prison. Until the passage of HB 2248 and SB 2465, ex-cons had their license eligibility determined by a rigid system that was outdated and lacked nuance. Now, licenses are determined on more of a case-by-case basis, giving former convicts a second chance and a path to new opportunities.

This sequence of new legislation came from an abundance of court cases where individuals were unfairly barred from job opportunities. With the Beacon Center representing their interests in court, affected citizens were able to take legal action against those flawed policies. These brave men and women are everyday heroes whose efforts to end unfair employment practices in Tennessee are now creating opportunities for thousands of people to have a second chance.

Beacon hero Elias Zarate, a barber from Memphis who was Beacon's plaintiff against the unfair license needed to cut hair in Tennessee.​

“Through a combination of public awareness, storytelling, strategic litigation, and policy recommendations, we have rolled back unnecessary licensing burdens faster than any state in the nation” explained Beacon Center CEO Justin Owen. “Due to both the systemic reforms and repeal of multiple licensing laws entirely, thousands of Tennesseans now have the opportunity to earn an honest living free from unnecessary government interference.”

The key to the Beacon Center’s successful efforts has been their belief that every unnecessary occupational licensing requirement directly affects everyday real people—whom are championing to create more opportunities and more jobs for their society.

“Those who have benefited have expressed their gratitude for our work advocating for their right to earn a living” continued Owen. “As one of our clients stated after our work led to the repeal of the license that prevented her from washing hair in her friend's salon, no one but the Beacon Center ever stood up for her ability to earn an honest living.”

Beacon hero Tammy Pritchard, who was Beacon's plaintiff against Tennessee's now-repealed license to shampoo hair.

These repeals are a restoration of a broken promise—a promise that everyone can have access to the opportunity to build a better life.

“Those shut out of these jobs (because of occupational licensing regulations) almost never have anyone standing up for them,” concluded Owen. “We are proud to defend their right to earn a living and pursue the American Dream.”