April 29, 2020
By Heather Curry

Currently, the Missouri Senate is considering legislation to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses. Introduced by Representative Derek Grier, Missouri’s bill follows landmark legislation first passed in Arizona in 2019 and long championed by the Goldwater Institute. Arizona’s law has been an overwhelming success, with over 950 licenses approved since the law went into effect in September of 2019.

Arizona’s universal recognition law allows new residents to apply for and be approved quickly for a license so long as they have held a license for one year in good standing and met education or testing requirements as determined by the licensing state. The Goldwater Institute has worked to expand upon this first-in-the-nation law, developing model legislation alongside the Institute for Justice to extend the benefits of licensing recognition to even more professionals. The Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act is the foundation for Missouri’s reform effort this session, and creates a pathway to recognition not only for licensed professionals but for those with work experience and private certification qualifications.

Why is this reform so critical, and why should Missouri take action now?

State-to-state licensing demands can vary wildly, with different requirements on everything from hours of training to numbers of tests. In practice, this means that America’s licensed professionals are frequently required to put their careers on hold to complete typically unnecessary extra work, all for the sake of a change in address. Further, many state licensing statutes require applicants to have completed training or testing that is “substantially similar,” a diplomatic way of reserving power to licensing boards to deny a license if they determine the original training to be less stringent than their own. As fewer than 30 occupations are licensed in all 50 states, a professional may have worked in a field in one state for years without a license, only to be outright denied the ability to work in a new state or be required to complete additional training or testing upon relocation. Rather than discount the time and experience of that professional, HB 2046 removes Missouri’s unhelpful substantially similar language. Instead, it directs licensing boards to focus consideration on whether a person’s licensed practice level, that is, the day to day duties and activities of the license, is the same as the new license being sought. This is an approach advocated for in Goldwater’s model legislation and echoed in introduced legislation across the country.

Additionally, Missouri’s proposed bill allows a person who has safely worked in an occupation at the same practice level for at least three years to be eligible to receive a license under recognition. A person who holds a private certification in good standing can be eligible after two years of work experience. This approach offers a roadmap for policymakers looking to manage the real-world implications of state-to-state regulatory inconsistencies. Missouri’s reform accomplishes this while also expanding the pool to include non-residents, another element found in Goldwater’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act.

While HB 2046 was introduced prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of this kind of regulatory reform has been highlighted during the healthcare crisis. Across the country, governors have waived licensing requirements in a variety of fields. In Missouri, Governor Mike Parson issued executive orders addressing, among other things, licensing regulations related to out-of-state telehealth providers as well as teacher certification requirements in order to prevent shortages during the state of emergency. At a time when so many Americans are out of work, policymakers should clear the hurdles that stand between workers and their ability to earn a living. Commenting on the need for action, Patrick Ishmael of the Show-Me Institute, Missouri’s leading free-market think tank, said, “As the past eight weeks of healthcare orders have shown, free market groups like Goldwater and Show-Me were right about the importance of such reforms. Missouri and others appear on track to make these changes permanent, and in our opinion, the sooner that happens, the better.”

Additionally, as policymakers look to revitalize local economies, universal recognition legislation can send a strong signal that licensed professionals are welcome to work and will have their training and experience recognized and respected in their new state. Fortunately, many states are already well-positioned to pursue this reform. This session alone, over 20 states introduced legislation based on the Arizona model, with Idaho and Utah passing their own recognition bills. If approved, Missouri’s bill would set a new standard for occupational licensure reform, and other states would be well-served to follow its lead as it joins Arizona in welcoming out-of-state workers.

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

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