By Iris Hentze and Andrew Wagner
At the beginning of this year we asked: Will licensing stay on center stage in 2018? Occupational licensing has garnered much attention from policymakers in recent years as the culmination of national and state momentum resulted in a variety of states beginning work on this issue, including as part of NCSL’s own Occupational Licensing Learning Consortium.
In 2017, NCSL cataloged a list of more than 500 bills related to occupational licensing from all 50 states, proving the issue’s importance to lawmakers. So, did occupational licensing manage to retain its spot on the legislative priority list in 2018? Now, more than halfway through the year and with the majority of state legislative sessions adjourned, we can take a look back at some of this year’s trends in licensing in the states.
Individuals with Criminal Records
Many states have expressed interest in studying and addressing the potential impact an applicant’s criminal history may have on his or her eligibility for licensure. This year, states including Colorado, Illinois, Maryland and Utah enacted legislation reevaluating how criminal records factor into the ultimate decision to issue an individual a professional license. In general, the new laws attempt to allow ex-offenders greater opportunity to re-enter the professional workforce by setting constraints on the length of time a conviction could be used to decline a license, or making exemptions for those convicted of an offense but who were ultimately pardoned or had the conviction expunged.
Veterans and Military Spouses
In recent years, many states have passed legislation to make licensed occupations more accessible for veterans and military spouses. Utah passed a bill providing licensing exemptions for military family members if the individual has a valid license in another jurisdiction. If the jurisdiction has less requirements, the legislation allows for the issuance of a temporary license. Alabama enacted the Military Family Jobs Opportunity Act, a measure that strengthens reciprocity in the state by requiring the adoption of rules by any board, agency or other entity providing professional licenses ensuring the recognition of licenses across state lines. As long as the state where a veteran or military spouse was issued a license has licensing criteria that is “greater or substantially similar” to that of Alabama, the license must be recognized.
Structural and Administrative Changes
Many states are examining what they can do from an administrative standpoint to help improve their occupational licensure policy. Virginia, for example, passed legislation directing the state’s Department of Planning and Budget to implement a pilot program that will review, among others, regulations relating to occupational licenses to identify any potential areas for these regulations to be revised or eliminated. Georgia created the House Study Committee on Professional Licensing Boards to review the existing operations and funding of professional licensing boards in the state and to determine where opportunities exist for streamlining, where leveraging of available technology may be able to improve licensure and whether or not boards are being supplied with adequate funding. Other states that addressed occupational licensing this year through legislation targeting administrative changes include Idaho and Oklahoma.
Reciprocity and Compacts
Reciprocity, or making licenses more portable across state lines, and compacts are always popular topics and continued to keep the interest of policymakers in many states including South Carolina, West Virginia, Missouri and New Hampshire. In New Hampshire, legislators passed a bill to allow individuals licensed in certain, high-demand health occupations in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, New York or Vermont to be granted temporary licenses. These temporary licenses allow workers in these health occupations to practice while they are applying for regular state licenses as well as while they are waiting for a licensure board to make the decision on their applications. South Carolina joined 16 other states by enacting legislation to officially recognize the Emergency Medical Services Personnel Licensure Interstate Compact for EMTs.
Iris Hentze is a policy associate in NCSL's Employment, Labor and Retirement Program. Andrew Wagner was an intern in the program.