December 17, 2020
By Heather Curry

This week, President Trump issued an executive order highlighting the need for occupational licensing reform and calling on state and local leaders to engage on behalf of America’s workforce.

The Executive Order on Increasing Economic and Geographic Mobility builds on the administration’s multi-year effort to reduce regulatory burdens across the economy and has a specific focus on universal recognition, a licensing reform long advocated for by the Goldwater Institute. President Trump’s order includes a set of reform principles drawn from the Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act, model legislation designed by the Goldwater Institute and the Institute for Justice.

First passed in Arizona in 2019, universal recognition allows a licensed professional to apply for and be quickly granted a license to work based on the training or testing he or she has already completed. So long as an applicant has held a valid out-of-state license in good standing for at least one year, he or she is eligible to receive a similar license under recognition. Since the law went into effect in 2019, over 2,400 professionals have been granted an Arizona license to work under universal recognition. This reform has been widely popular, attracting skilled applicants in fields ranging from medicine to cosmetology to dentistry.

Universal recognition has also been popular among state legislators: Following Arizona’s successful reform, 24 states introduced a version of universal recognition and 10 states enacted their own reforms to support professionals and military families. From Utah to Missouri, legislators have seen the value of pursuing this essential reform. The Goldwater Institute has actively engaged on the issue, providing data, research, testimony, and support to efforts from coast to coast.

Why is this particular reform so important? In nearly every state, occupational licensing boards spend countless hours evaluating the qualifications of out-of-state applicants who already hold a valid license in another state. If differences are found, these same boards frequently require incoming workers to complete additional training or testing before issuing a license to a new resident. This means that professionals of all kinds are required to put their careers on hold, spending more time and more money on training and testing, just to prove that they can do a job that they have already been doing safely and productively in another state.

In some states, the barriers are so great that some Americans don’t even bother getting a new license. They just stop working. Others just stay put because they can’t risk moving to a new state that might not recognize their license. This is unfair and unreasonable and can be disastrous for workers and their families.

The White House’s executive order specifically identifies these issues: “By requiring workers to acquire new licenses when they move to a new jurisdiction, occupational regulations reduce worker mobility, disproportionately harm low‑income Americans, and are particularly burdensome to military spouses who must relocate to support the service members committed to keeping our country safe.”

It further notes that, “Overly burdensome occupational licensing requirements can impede job creation and slow economic growth, which undermines our Nation’s prosperity and the economic well‑being of the American people. Such regulations can prevent American workers and job seekers from earning a living, maximizing their personal and economic potential, and achieving the American Dream.”

There is a groundswell of support for the reform among legislators who recognize the harm that overregulation can cause, particularly to Americans who have had to relocate in the service of their country or to take care of family during the pandemic. Rather than ask highly skilled professionals to interrupt their careers just to jump through bureaucratic hoops, state legislators should choose to eliminate the hurdles that can stand between workers and their right to earn a living.

The President’s new executive order provides a roadmap for states looking to pursue a way forward that honors the time and dedication of America’s skilled and licensed workforce. In a time in which the American Dream may seem more difficult to reach, the push for universal recognition—driven by the ongoing efforts of the Goldwater Institute—can help put the Dream back in many Americans’ grasp.

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

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