Job licensing reforms can help military spouses

Job licensing reforms can help military spouses

One of the main currents in occupational licensing adjustments that we’ve seen over the last five years or so, is an effort to make it easier for military members–and their spouses–to move across jurisdictions and still be able to work in an area they’ve trained in.  The most recent example I’ve seen (and the trigger for this post) is in an article that popped up in my Google alerts concerning S3664 in New Jersey. It was recently advanced from the New Jersey State Senate’s Miltary and Veterans Affairs Committee.

The New Jersey bill is similar to many bills that are being introduced around the country. And many of these bills–on the surface–sound great, when in reality, they still leave a lot of discretion to the licensing boards.

For instance, it says that:

Not withstanding the provision of any law, rule or regulation to the contrary, each board shall issue, upon application, a license to a non resident military spouse who meets the requirements of this section, so that the nonresident military spouse may practice lawfully the person’s profession or occupation. 

Of course, it’s never that easy; there are a number of caveats. Perhaps the biggest is that the applicant’s license in another jurisdiction “has license requirements to practice the profession or occupation that are equivalent to those adopted by the board [in this case, New Jersey’s]”….and “completes such continuing education hours or credits as may be required by the board within the time frame the board may establish.”

I’ve seen this type of language in a number of pieces of legislation, and it still puts a lot of power to exclude people from practicing their occupation in the hands of a board.

The National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) has created a database that looks at licensing requirements in different states for select occupations. For instance, “Barber” is the first one on the list. Depending on the state you’re in, you might need 1000 hours of formal education before applying for licensure as a barber….or 2100 hours. What’s the difference between 1000 hours and 2100 hours of education to become a barber, you ask? I don’t know, but I have a strong suspicion that it costs a lot more to get 2100 hours of education than it does 1000.

So if you’re licensed to cut hair in a state that only requires 1000 hours of education to become a barber, have been doing that for 2 or 3 years, and your spouse moves because of military obligation to a state that requires 2100 hours, where does that leave you? I don’t think we know, when we see language like “equivalent to those adopted by the board.”

While the free marketeer in me believes that we could get rid of many of the current occupational licenses that states require (on the ground that public health and safety isn’t really at risk), it seems to me that the first step in this is to enact “universal recognition” laws, similar to the one enacted by Arizona earlier this year. Here’s a description of that law from the Council of State Governments. While even that law is not “ideal” (from my perspective),  the underlying assumption of the law is that there should be greater portability of licenses from one state to another (not just for military and spouses, but for everyone) and that assumptions that a people who have been licensed and practiced in one state are competent to practice in all states.

Some have suggested more “compacts”–not unlike the driver’s license compact which allows our driver’s licenses to be recognized as legitimate (for driving) in all states. But universal recognition seems to be less complicated to me. States don’t have to enter into compacts to recognize one another’s licenses–rather, they can simply say: “if you’re recognized in your home state, we recognize you here.”  And in this era of technology, checking licensure records in other states should be easy.

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