Part of Western Governors University
In the 1950s one of every 50 workers was licensed; now it is almost one in three.1 The costs and mobility issues associated with licensure have often been viewed as an inconvenience, one many states have attempted to address, but COVID-19 has raised the stakes: We no longer have the luxury of maintaining barriers to employment that do not serve a pressing public interest... Policymakers must address these issues across career sectors, and they should do so with the same urgency with which they created flexibility for healthcare workers in the early stages of COVID-19. As the nation grapples with the unprecedented financial fallout from the pandemic, removing unnecessary barriers to employment is essential. (Read more via the link below...)
The challenges of solving licensure portability are real. While efforts have been made for particular populations (e.g., veterans and military spouses) and for particular fields (e.g., healthcare and education) those efforts should be knitted together as part of a strategic plan that supports states in addressing licensure for a prioritized list of career fields.
The current and previous presidential administrations have made efforts to encourage licensure reform, ranging from laying out best practices to providing grant funding. The federal government, large philanthropy groups, membership organizations with nearly
national representation (e.g., the National Governors Association or the Council of State Governments),
or a conglomeration of existing regional higher education compacts (e.g., the Midwestern Higher Education Compact) can play a continued convening and supporting role, bringing together policymakers, employers, and regulatory boards to address licensure issues in an ongoing fashion.
Some states have undertaken a comprehensive examination of their regulatory frameworks to assess how burdensome their current licensing structures are. These include both legislated initiatives (for example, Tennessee’s Right to Earn a Living Act, which mandated a review of the state’s licensing laws and corresponding recommendations for eliminating or easing requirements) and executive initiatives (Delaware’s Governor Markell signed an executive order creating the Delaware Professional License Review Committee, charged with examining state licenses and making recommendations to ease or eliminate burdensome requirements). These comprehensive state assessments should be adopted by all other states
and paired with ongoing “sunrise” and “sunset” committees to continue assessing licensure requirements so that newly enacted regulations are not restrictive and unnecessary regulations are lifted.7
The boldest example of licensure reform has been set by Arizona, which adopted “universal licensure,” permitting licensed individuals relocating from other states who meet certain safeguards (e.g., practicing at least a year, in good standing, in their original state of license) to practice within Arizona.8 In addition, Arizona has eliminated occupational licensing requirements for specific fields, such as citrus and vegetable packers and yoga instructors.
States that have not comprehensively reviewed licensing regulations within the last four years should begin there and use the review to drive forward- facing legislation and reform of state licensing entities. Boards should perform, either voluntarily or as compelled by legislation, a review of required education, cost of entry and maintenance, and differences from requirements of neighboring states and/or national licensing standards.
COVID-19 has forced lawmakers and other state-level actors to take immediate and drastic action to address critical worker shortages. While necessitated by circumstances, these actions have been tantamount to eliminating license requirements altogether. The crisis-driven worker shortages could have been mitigated by a more sustainable approach to worker mobility. States should participate in long-term compacts dedicated to smoothing license portability among states.
The Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) is a great interstate compact that eases requirements for nurses to practice across states. As of October 2020, 33 states are part of eNLC, along with New Jersey’s partial participation.9 Another example is the Recognition of EMS Personnel Licensure Interstate CompAct (REPLICA), enacted in 20 states, which allows EMS professionals licensed in their state to practice in other states for qualified circumstances.10
In addition, the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) has developed an agreement to assist the mobility of licensed teachers among the states.11 While some states have additional requirements or offer provisional licensure for out- of-state teachers, this agreement is an important step toward educator licensure mobility, a good foundation for true licensure reciprocity.
States should join existing compacts and look for career fields that deserve a compact of their own. A wide variety of career fields, from accountancy to cosmetology, could benefit from a reciprocal approach to licensure
and certification at the state level. Additionally, national licensure and certifications should stand in place of state licensure and regulatory requirements in those fields.
Licensure, with all of its challenges, becomes even more challenging for particular populations. For example, military spouses struggle to port their licenses across state lines, often ending up underemployed as a result and/or spending an inordinate amount of time and money relicensing in each state. Immigrants to the United States often end up employed outside of their field because of the difficulties in translating their internationally attained licenses to one issued by a specific state. Lower-income individuals are challenged by the cost and time associated with licensure. Individuals with criminal records are often barred from entry.
Some of the previous recommendations will ease licensing issues for these populations, but additional policy solutions that focus on making licensure more equitable and accessible are needed. These include:
Legislation that waives or reduces fees for military spouses and for low- income Americans.12 Wisconsin, Utah, and Arizona are states that have passed bills to waive or reduce fees for low-income applicants or those on welfare. States should look for opportunities to continue removing fees that stand as a barrier.
Embracing “fair chance” licensing reform. Nearly one in three American adults has a criminal record; with the 27,000 state licensing restrictions for those with criminal records, 25 percent of available jobs are simply unavailable.13 “Fair chance” licensure reform eases undue burdens on formerly incarcerated individuals attempting to enter regulated fields and can take many forms. This includes eliminating blanket bans, requiring licensing boards to assess candidates on a case-by-case basis, and limiting the types of information collected and used (e.g., old, minor, and unrelated charges) in licensing decisions.14 These reforms have swept across the country within the last five years. However, there is still more work to be done.
Arizona’s “universal licensing” initiative began as one intended to help military spouses and veterans and was later expanded due to its success.