May 11, 2020
By Jon Riches

Five psychologists in Arizona won their freedom to practice their profession when the state’s Board of Psychologist Examiners reversed course on its incorrect interpretation of a new state law, thanks to the work of the Goldwater Institute. Eliminating this irrational barrier to work will benefit Arizonans at a time when mental health support is especially needed.

Last year, Arizona became a national leader in breaking down barriers to work when it enacted a “universal recognition” law that allows residents who are licensed to practice an occupation in other states to practice in Arizona. The law requires state licensing authorities to grant licenses to Arizona residents who have held a license in good standing in another state for at least a year.

Dr. Carol Gandolfo, who resides in Arizona and has been a licensed psychologist in California for over 20 years, applied for a license under the law. But even though Dr. Gandolfo met the requirements, the Board denied her a license, along with several others who also applied.

The Board contended that the universal recognition law only applies to new residents, not residents who have resided in Arizona for some unspecified length of time. The Board also claimed that because Dr. Gandolfo did not receive her degree from a regionally accredited institution (she received her degree from a state accredited school) she “does not hold a license from another state at the same practice level” as licensed individuals in Arizona. 

The Goldwater Institute took up Dr. Gandolfo’s case, appealed the denial of her license, and argued that the Board was wrong on both counts. The law applies to all Arizona residents, old or new. And the entire purpose of universal licensure is to recognize out-of-state licenses even if the requirements for licensure in the other state are different from those in Arizona. 

On Friday, the Board reconsidered its previous interpretation of the law and determined that it was incorrect. It then granted Dr. Gandolfo and four other applicants their licenses to practice psychology in Arizona. Although the Board never should have denied these licenses in the first place, it should be commended for reversing its prior decision and granting them now. 

The Board’s decision is good news for Arizonans, especially as more and more people suffer from mental health issues, alcohol abuse, and domestic instabilities as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and its aftermath. Indeed, the Board should look very carefully at unreasonable barriers for mental health professionals to practice in this state. 

When Arizona enacted universal recognition of occupational licenses, it became a national leader in breaking down unnecessary barriers to work — a policy that the Goldwater Institute has long advocated. The Board took a step in the right direction on Friday by recognizing that Arizona law has eliminated many of those barriers. It should continue to work to eliminate arbitrary obstacles that stand in the way of mental health care for Arizonans who are in need of those services now more than ever.   

Jon Riches is the Director of National Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.

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