In May, this year’s session of the Texas legislature ended in chaotic fashion with a confusing series of late-night votes. After the gavel fell, lawmakers— who meet only once every two years in a state resistant to the trammels of politics— realized they’d failed to renew the law authorizing the State Board of Plumbing Examiners. Created in 1947 to ensure clean and safe water for the Lone Star State, the plumbers’ licensing board has been a powerful authority. Every aspiring plumber has needed to make a pilgrimage to Austin to win the right to practice. Suddenly, flood the market with unqualified people,” says Scott Gomez of Houston, whose father and brothers are also plumbers. “I can see a lot of bad things happening,” including contamination of the water supply and flooded houses.
The board’s demise suited some people fine. In states such as New York and Kansas where plumbers aren’t regulated, there’s no evidence the public has been endangered, says Adam Thierer, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, which has been heavily funded by Charles and David Koch. The mere existence of a licensing board makes it hard for new plumbers to get into the occupation and compete, says Arif Panju, who runs the Texas office of the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm. “There’s a barrier of entry to get into the profession, and there’s multiple barriers