March 1, 2021
By Heather Curry

Updated March 5, 2021: HB 1263 has advanced through the Senate Committee on Accountability, Efficiency, and Transparency and awaits further action.

Imagine spending 1,000 hours of your life pursuing the skills and experience necessary to obtain a license to work in your dream job. You’ve completed the education, you’ve taken the exam, and you’ve been working in your field, contributing your talent and dedication to providing for your family and making your community a better place. Now, imagine relocating from one state to another only to find that all that hard work was for nothing. Your license, your time, and all of your hard work is suddenly worthless—in fact, you may have to start all over again, rebuilding your career from scratch to match your new state’s requirements. Unfortunately, this is the reality facing many Americans who work in one of the numerous careers that require an occupational license.

Fortunately, there’s a better way. The Mississippi legislature is currently considering a reform based on the Goldwater Institute’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act, landmark legislation that recognizes the out-of-state training and qualifications of America’s skilled workforce. Introduced by Representative Becky Currie, House Bill 1263 has already passed through the Mississippi House of Representatives and is currently under consideration in the Mississippi Senate.

HB 1263 builds on Mississippi’s Military Family Freedom Act (MFFA), legislation that eased licensing burdens on military families relocating to Mississippi. The bill (SB 2117) was spearheaded by the Mississippi Senate last year and is a model for other states, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Representative Currie’s reform would extend the essential benefits of the MFFA to other skilled workers looking to bring their training and experience into Mississippi.

“This bill is a win-win for the people of Mississippi and for new residents. It’s really an economic development bill, but instead of going after one company, we are opening the door wide to skilled workers from other states. We all benefit when skilled labor, individuals with an occupational license, move here. These people are going to get good jobs and help grow our state. Other states are making it easier for new residents to transfer the license they have already worked hard to get so that these people can start working and contributing to the economy right away. Why make someone jump through the same hoops twice? We need to make it easy for people to work, especially when the federal government is doing the opposite,” explained Representative Currie.

Why does this reform matter? Currently, 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, architects, physicians, tree trimmers, and mechanical engineers, among others. In many states, regulatory disparities mean out-of-state applicants are forced to spend extra time and money to complete additional testing or training requirements just to be relicensed to do the same job they’ve already been doing.

These costly and time-consuming additional requirements can delay or even sideline the careers of American workers. In some cases, the barriers are so great that some Americans don’t even bother getting a new license. They just stop working. Others are forced to 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.

Dr. Jameson Taylor, Senior Vice President for Policy, stated, “This bill is one of the easiest, best things we can do to encourage people to move to Mississippi. If someone has invested thousands of dollars to obtain the education and experience necessary to get an occupational license, we should open the door for them to move to Mississippi and get a Mississippi license. We spend millions of dollars trying to recruit companies to come here. This bill spends nothing. Yet, I believe this reform could create hundreds of jobs here in Mississippi as high-skilled individuals decide Mississippi is the place they want to be.”

Continued Taylor, “When families move to Mississippi, we make it easy for their kids’ K-12 grade-level coursework to transfer over. We make it easy for college coursework to transfer over. Why wouldn’t we do the same thing when it comes to occupational licensing and let people carry over their relevant education and experience to get a Mississippi license?”

In Mississippi, nearly 20% of professionals work in fields regulated by licensing boards. Additionally, there are more than 60 low-to-middle income occupations that require a license in the state. As a result, Mississippi is one of the most burdensome states when it comes to occupational licensing.

HB 1263 seeks to remedy this problem. Under the reform, applicants are eligible to apply if they have held an out-of-state license for at least a year, are in good standing, and have met the testing or training requirements of their initial licensing state. This reform is good for workers seeking to seamlessly get back to work when they cross state lines, and employers in Mississippi as they look to attract talented, dedicated professionals. It is also a boon for state licensing entities who will no longer need to devote unnecessary time to comparing education or training requirements across all 50 states.

“Just as we did last year, I am looking forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to pass this bill to help families moving to Mississippi,” said Representative Currie. “I am very grateful to chairman Senator John Polk and vice chair Senator Angela Hill for leading on this issue in the Senate and getting this bill out of committee.”

Since Goldwater’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work law went into effect in Arizona in late 2019, more than 2,600 licenses have been granted, in professions ranging from cosmetology to dentistry to landscape architecture. Of those, over 875 licenses have been approved by Arizona’s Registrar of Contractors, empowering skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen to get to work quickly when they move into the state. Additionally, Arizona has been able to quickly approve the licenses of over 300 behavioral health specialists, increasing access to mental health services at a time when many residents may need support as they deal with the ongoing stress of the pandemic.

Mississippi is not alone in pursuing this important and timely reform. This session, more than 15 states have introduced legislation to extend out-of-state license recognition to skilled professionals. Following Arizona’s lead, Montana, Pennsylvania, Utah, Idaho, Iowa, and Missouri have passed their own universal recognition laws. Other states, like Ohio, Louisiana, and Indiana have passed versions that benefit military families, recognizing, as Mississippi did, that military families are disproportionately impacted by costly and time-consuming regulation. This new reform would help families of all kinds as they seek to build their lives and careers in Mississippi.   

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. The Goldwater Institute applauds the Mississippi legislature for its efforts to expand the Military Family Freedom Act and extend its essential benefits to other hardworking Americans.  

Read more about how Goldwater’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work law is ensuring Americans are free to work, no matter where they live.

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

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