February 24, 2020
By Mark Flatten

Barriers to work are coming down in Arizona thanks to a new law pushed by the Goldwater Institute that cuts through the bureaucracies and red tape that previously blocked new arrivals from working in their chosen professions.

Since the new universal recognition law took effect less than a year ago, 751 people have used it to obtain their occupational licenses in fields as varied as cosmetology to construction to dentistry, according to a survey of state licensing entities.

Last April, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed the legislation, which basically allows a person with an occupational license in good standing in another state for at least a year to obtain an equivalent license in Arizona. That eliminated many of the usual impediments that licensed professionals moving to Arizona would otherwise face, such as meeting minimum education and testing requirements that vary widely from state to state. The basic idea is that if a person has been safely and successfully practicing a licensed trade in one state, that person should be qualified to practice it in Arizona.

As Ducey put it when he signed the law, which was championed by the Goldwater Institute, “There’s dignity in all work. And we know that whether you make your living as a plumber, a barber, a nurse or anything else, you don’t lose your skills simply because you moved here.” Since Ducey signed the first-in-the-nation law, Pennsylvania adopted similar legislation, and more than a dozen additional states have bills pending.

Past experience in occupational licensing in particular and government in general tells us that there is often a disconnect between passing a law and implementing it effectively. In December, the Goldwater Institute reported on “feel-good” laws passed nationally that were meant to ease the licensing hassles for military spouses, who typically move every few years. While every state claims to have military-friendly licensing laws or policies, most proved ineffective because of vague language, poor implementation, or outright “arrogance and ignorance” from licensing boards reluctant to cede any of the powers of their regulatory fiefdoms.

So the Goldwater Institute surveyed Arizona’s occupational licensing boards to find out how the new law is working. It sent public records requests to the roughly three dozen Arizona regulatory boards or offices that issue occupational licenses, seeking data on the number of licenses approved under the new law. Not all of the results are in yet. And the Goldwater Institute will continue pursuing the story. However, early results indicate the law is working.

Since the law took effect, 867 people have filed license applications under the universal recognition law, according to the data provided by the 25boards that have responded so far. Of those, 751 licenses have been approved, three have been rejected and the rest are still pending or have been withdrawn.

Fifteen of the boards have received applications under the new law, and nine have not. Of the rest, 12 have not yet provided numbers and one does not track applications for universal recognition.

The Registrar of Contractors, which licenses the construction trades, had 237 applications and approved 231, the most of any licensing entity. The remaining applications are either pending or were withdrawn. None has been rejected.

The Registrar’s office licenses businesses, not individuals, so the actual number of people working under the benefits of the new law is far more than the 231 licenses that were approved, said Jeff Fleetham, director of the Registrar of Contractors.

“I love this legislation,” Fleetham said. “It gives us an additional tool to use to help people get into business. Our agency’s goal is to find reasons to license people, not reasons not to.”

The Board of Cosmetology, which licenses hair stylists and beauticians, also has received 237 applications and approved 214 of them. No applications have been rejected, and 23 are pending.

Kim Scoplitte, executive director of the cosmetology board, said the transition was an easy one because the board already had reciprocity with the 49 other states. Reciprocity is similar to universal recognition, but usually is confined to the limited number of states that sign onto an agreement. Arizona had no such restriction, Scoplitte said.

“It wasn’t difficult for us because we were already familiar with reciprocity and it just was a very smooth process,” Scoplitte said. “If their documents were in line they just moved through the process. It was pretty seamless.”

The Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, which licenses mental health counselors, social worker and therapists, had the third-highest tally with 177 applications, 144 approvals and no rejections. The remaining 33 applications are pending.

Tobi Zavala, executive director of the behavioral health board, said transitioning to the new law has been fairly seamless, in part because the board previously had policies that allowed people practicing for at least three years in another state to qualify for a license here. Prior to the new law taking effect, applicants who did not meet the three-year requirement were contacted by the board to inform them of the change. That led to a flood of early applications which were quickly processed.

The old policy, which does not have a residency requirement, remains in place. That gives people in other states two avenues to obtain a behavioral license in Arizona through universal recognition, including people who may practice in multiple states but do not live here.

“I’m a big fan of it,” Zavala said of the new law. “It’s allowed the opportunity to have a better way of applying to Arizona.”

Mark Flatten is the National Investigative Journalist at the Goldwater Institute. Goldwater Institute policy intern Jordan Donaldson assisted in compiling the data.

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