May 12, 2020
By Heather Curry

This week, Missouri took an important step toward making it easier for individuals to get to work by becoming the first state in the Midwest to pass legislation to universally recognize out-of-state occupational licenses.

The new law will be a boon for the state’s workers, families, and employers. Passed by the legislature and awaiting the signature of Governor Mike Parson, this important reform builds on landmark legislation first passed in Arizona in 2019 and adopts additional elements of the Goldwater Institute’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act. The Goldwater Institute was pleased to work alongside Missouri’s Show-Me Institute and the Institute for Justice to educate lawmakers on the need for this critical reform.

Introduced by Representative Derek Grier, House Bill 2046 allows an individual to apply for and be approved for an occupational license based on the training or testing he or she has already completed out-of-state. If an applicant has held a similar license in good standing for at least one year, they are eligible to apply for recognition. This vital reform will save applicants time and money and encourage a more seamless transition into the workforce.

Why is it important to recognize out-of-state licenses? Unfortunately, one in four jobs in America requires an occupational license—a government permission slip to work. Licensure impacts a variety of fields, including barbers, real estate agents, florists, interior designers, physicians, tree trimmers, and mechanical engineers, among others. In many states, out-of-state applicants are forced to spend extra time and money to complete additional testing or training requirements just to be re-licensed to do the same job they’ve already been doing. Many state licensing statutes require applicants to have completed training or testing that is “substantially similar,” language that can allow licensing boards to deny a license if they determine the original training to be less stringent than their own. Missouri’s bill puts a stop to that practice by directing licensing boards to determine if an applicant already been performing similar duties under his or her out-of-state license. If so, then a license will be approved with no need for further delay.

Missouri’s reform creates pathways to licensure for those with work experience and private certification, extending licensing recognition to even more professionals. As fewer than 30 occupations are licensed in all 50 states, these pathways ensure Americans aren’t locked out of work simply because states may approach regulation differently. Under the new law, if a person has safely worked in an occupation at the same practice level for at least three years and comes from a state where licensure was not required, he or she is eligible to receive a license without having to take on additional education or training. For those who hold out-of-state private certifications, a Missouri license at the same practice level will be issued 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 without punishing hardworking Americans.

Importantly, Representative Grier’s bill extends licensing not just to residents of Missouri but to those who work in the state but may need to live elsewhere. This is a smart and strategic way to invite workers to contribute their time and talent in Missouri while building in the kind of flexibility Americans will be looking for as they adjust to the new reality created by the COVID-19 crisis. Taken together, these elements combine to make Missouri’s universal recognition bill the broadest in the country. Once signed into law by Governor Parson, the reform will go into effect on August 28, 2020.

When Arizona became the first state in the nation to pass universal recognition, it set a new standard for licensure reform long advocated for by the Goldwater Institute. Arizona’s universal recognition law may be less than a year old, but early data shows that it is already having a tremendous effect. Since universal recognition went into effect in Arizona in September of 2019, over 1100 individuals have applied for and been granted a license to work in fields ranging from cosmetology to engineering. Missouri’s reform builds on the strong foundation laid in Arizona and sets an example that other states should follow.

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, Utah, Indiana, and Ohio passing versions of the reform to extend recognition to military families or other professionals. As legislators 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. At a time when so many Americans are out of work, policymakers should act swiftly to remove the unnecessary hurdles that stand between workers and their right to earn a living. Universal recognition, along with other Goldwater reforms like the Home-Based Business Fairness Act, should be at the top of every state’s economic recovery agenda.

The Goldwater Institute applauds Representative Grier and the legislature of Missouri for its decisive action in support of America’s workforce. Legislators across the country should join Missouri in adopting the Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act, and the Goldwater Institute stands ready to help.

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

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