Mar 27, 2023 By Marci Merola
What is Deregulation?
IIDA Director of Advocacy Marci Merola explains what deregulation means, and what it looks like in states with interior design laws
By Marci Merola Mar 27, 2023
Published in

Deregulation, or the process of removing or reducing state codes and statutes, is a buzz word that’s appearing more and more in the media lately, especially in relation to occupational licensing and its many professions. In relation to the interior design industry, it usually refers to the reversal of title or practice acts. That’s right: the very legislation that interior design communities have spent decades fighting for is in the spotlight.

While deregulation of interior design and occupational licensing professions is not new, there has been a recent resurgence, potentially fueled by a December 2020 report from the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL) stating that “occupational licensing has grown exponentially over the last 60 years, comprising nearly 25% of the U.S. workforce, up from 5% nearly 60 years ago.” The report cites occupational licensing as a barrier specifically to workforce development, criminal justice reform, immigration, and military affairs. But this mindset is not new, multiple government agencies and private organizations have historically had a less-government stance, with occupational licensing under examination. In a post-pandemic environment, state legislators everywhere are looking for creative solutions for fiscal solvency.

Military families are currently used as a prime example of how occupational licensing isn’t working: when one spouse or parent gets reassigned to a new post, the other, often in a portable, licensed career, such as a realtor, cosmetologist, or nursing professional, can’t get to work until they’re properly licensed or registered, a process that can take months.

Indeed, bureaucracy and prohibitive costs are unsavory realities of occupational licensing, and of course, the ones that are attracting attention of the media. Other recent mentions include a February 2023 Atlantic article that states that it takes $1,485 and 2,190 days to become an interior designer in Louisiana (a point reiterated in a recent WBUR-Boston’s podcast, where even National Public Radio seems to struggle with the pros and cons of the issue in “who benefits, who loses when one in four workers in America need a license to do their job?”).

To counter recent efforts that affect interior design, IIDA, ASID, and CIDQ have been working together with local lobbyists and practitioners. On the heels of Wisconsin’s 2022 legislative victory, news of deregulatory efforts took that interior design community by surprise. Wisconsin’s situation could be construed as classic bureaucracy, where legislators who serve on the Wisconsin Joint Council Study Committee on Occupational Licensing may have been unaware of other legislators’ recent efforts to move interior design legislation forward. While Wisconsin’s situation was resolved somewhat easily, other states have not been as lucky.


January saw the introduction of SB 1480 through the Virginia legislature, a sweeping bill that sought to deregulate multiple professions under the umbrella of occupational licensing, including interior design and initially, landscape architects (as well as auctioneers, geologists, and martial arts, boxing and wrestling events). The bill was defeated almost unanimously (sans a "yea" vote from bill sponsor, Sen. Richard Stuart) and almost as quickly as it appeared, thanks to quick mobilization efforts of the Virginia interior design community, which had encountered multiple deregulation efforts in the past. But their work is far from over: at the hearing, Senator Stuart alluded to a stronger strategy of targeting individual licensures in 2024. As such, those practitioners are back at work, educating legislators, solidifying strategy, and expanding their grassroots efforts.

Meanwhile, a smaller but determined group of practitioners in New Mexico are in the final throes (at press time) of battling another deregulation effort, which began last summer with an attempt to dissolve the regulatory board ahead of the 2024 Sunset of the New Mexico Interior Design Act, presumably with the ultimate goal of repealing this legislation.

Two solutions currently touted are a slippery slope towards removal or circumvention of state testing and regulation requirements altogether: interstate compacts (or state reciprocity, where states agree to accept licensing and registration of professionals between their states) and universal regulation (basically, where as long as someone is licensed in their home state, they are free to practice nationwide). Both of these are gaining traction. Virginia’s universal licensure bill, passed last month, adopted universal license recognition for 85 professions. Other proposed solutions, such as using sunset laws as opportunities to intercede and steer current legislation are playing out in states like New Mexico.

Registered and Licensed Interior Designer stamps, image courtesy of Engineer Seal Stamps.
Registered and Licensed Interior Designer stamps, image courtesy of Engineer Seal Stamps.

Increasingly, what our profession sees as leveling up—asking for more accountability via testing and regulation to increase improvements to the health, safety, and welfare of the public—is being deemed as a barrier to entry. Occupational licensing exists solely to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public. By default, it is a mechanism that allows legislators to do the same—they could easily shift their attention to an easier solution: occupational licensing reform that would reduce wait times and create affordable, more equitable fees. In the meantime, it's up to the interior design community to educate policy makers about the indispensable role commercial interior designers play in the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

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