June 18, 2020
By Heather Curry

This past weekend, Iowa joined a growing list of states acting to protect hardworking Americans and their right to earn a living.

Supported by numerous coalition groups and dedicated lawmakers, Iowa’s Senate File 2418 accomplishes a great number of things: It advances critical criminal justice reforms, waives licensure fees for low-income workers, and adopts universal recognition, the central element of the Goldwater Institute’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act. With the passage of this bill, Iowa’s legislature has made it easier for skilled professionals to obtain an occupational license when they relocate to the state.

Why is universal recognition important? Many professionals are required to obtain an occupational license—a government permission slip—before being allowed to pursue their careers in a given state. In many cases, regulatory disparities between states mean that qualified individuals who have already completed training and testing to obtain a license in one state are required to complete additional training when relocating to a new state. These costly and time-consuming additional requirements can delay or even sideline the careers of trained professionals. Iowa’s new bill seeks to prevent this by directing licensing entities to recognize the out-of-state occupational licenses of new arrivals. So long as a person has held a license for one year in good standing at a substantially similar practice level, they are eligible to pursue a license under this new policy.

In addition to recognizing out-of-state licenses, Iowa’s bill also creates a pathway to licensure for professionals with work experience. As fewer than 30 occupations are licensed in all 50 states, the addition of this pathway ensures that hardworking Americans aren’t locked out of work simply because states approach regulation differently. Under the new law, if a person has obtained at least three years of relevant experience at a similar practice level and comes from a state that did not license that particular occupation, he or she is eligible to receive a license in Iowa without having to take on additional education or training.

These reforms will have a transformative effect on Iowa’s regulatory regime. Americans for Prosperity’s Iowa State Director Drew Klein praised the bill, commenting, “After years of education and advocacy, we are excited to see the Iowa legislature take a historic step forward in reducing barriers to work. Easing the path for formerly incarcerated individuals to find fulfilling work, as well as recognizing unlicensed work experience and credentials from beyond Iowa will open doors to opportunity for many. We thank the legislature for helping create safer communities and making Iowa a more attractive place to live, work and raise a family.” SF 2418 awaits the signature of Governor Kim Reynolds.

Iowa is not alone in pursuing this essential reform. In 2019, Arizona became the first state in the nation to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses. 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 September of 2019, over 1,100 individuals have applied for and been granted an Arizona license to work in fields ranging from cosmetology to engineering.

This session, more than 20 states introduced universal recognition legislation. As of today, Arizona, Montana, Pennsylvania, Utah, Idaho, and Missouri have passed their own universal recognition laws. Other states, like Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio have passed versions that benefit military families, recognizing, as Iowa’s bill does, that military families are often disproportionately impacted by costly and time-consuming regulation.

While Iowa is the latest state to remove regulatory hurdles for licensed professionals, still others may achieve similar reforms before the 2020 legislation session ends.

In Mississippi, a bill to extend licensing recognition to service members and their families passed the House of Representatives and awaits action in the Senate. This reform would allow members of the military to have the training they received while in the military recognized as a pathway to licensure in the state. Additionally, military spouses would be eligible to apply for a Mississippi license if they have held a valid out-of-state license for one year in good standing. This reform recognizes that military families are particularly vulnerable to the effects of onerous licensing, with spouses required to relicense as frequently as they are required to move.

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 the Iowa legislature, as well as the many groups who worked to achieve this important reform. We look forward to hearing the many success stories that are sure to come from this important reform and thank Governor Kim Reynolds for her leadership on this issue.

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

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