March 27, 2020
By Heather Curry

In response to the national emergency created by COVID-19, numerous state legislatures have suspended or adjourned their legislative sessions. In an average year, nearly every state legislature would still be in session, actively considering legislation related to the management of routine state affairs. While a small handful of sessions remain active and others have tentative plans to return in the coming weeks, in many cases it is a game of wait-and-see as policymakers respond to the current public health crisis.

When sessions do resume, legislators will be looking to pro-growth policy reforms to help boost local economies impacted by the unprecedented disruption created by the closure of businesses large and small. Fortunately, many states have already laid the groundwork for one such essential reform.

This session, twenty states introduced versions of universal recognition, a policy long championed by the Goldwater Institute that allows licensed, trained professionals to apply for and be quickly granted a license to practice when they move into a new state. Of those 20 states, Idaho and Utah passed universal recognition bills in the past few weeks, while others, like Indiana, advanced legislation extending reciprocity to the spouses of active duty military members. Still more states, like Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma passed versions of the reform through committee or through their respective House or Senate chambers prior to ending their sessions early. First passed in Arizona in 2019, universal recognition already has a track record of success with hundreds and hundreds of Arizonans already benefiting from the reform.

Why is universal recognition such an important reform? In many states, applicants are forced to spend time and money to complete additional testing or training requirements simply to continue in their current careers. Instead of evaluating the kind of training or the number of tests a person has completed, universal recognition empowers licensing boards to concentrate their area of consideration to whether an individual has already been performing similar duties under their out-of-state license. If so, then there is no need to delay in issuing a license. So long as an applicant has held a license in good standing for at least one year and was required to complete testing or training requirements in the initiating state, they are eligible to receive a license. Boards no longer need to devote unnecessary time to comparing education or training requirements across all 50 states, and applicants are no longer required to jump through hoops just to continue a career they were already doing safely and productively elsewhere.

While this reform is a commonsense one under normal conditions, the value of eliminating regulatory delays to work is especially clear in this time of national emergency. A startling and recurring theme across the country has been a shortage of medical workers to provide care for patients with COVID-19 and to help stem the tide of infection. Medical personnel are overworked, exhausted, and in need of relief. Governors from Colorado to Connecticut and Texas to Florida have acted swiftly to remove the kind of licensing regulatory hurdles that typically delay or block the extension of licenses to trained professionals from out of state, putting nurses and physicians to work quickly in areas where their contributions will be most impactful. While the approach has varied from state to state—and is being helpfully tracked by Americans for Tax Reform—there is a recognition across the board that status quo regulatory hurdles create the kind of delay that could mean the difference between life and death in a time of national emergency.

With so much uncertainty ahead as to when many state and local economies will be able to reopen for business, state policymakers can rely on one thing: When that time comes, America’s licensed professionals are trained, ready, and willing to work. State governments would be well-served to welcome them with open arms, not red tape.

Heather Curry is the Director of Strategic Engagement at the Goldwater Institute.

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