March 17, 2021
By Heather Curry

In exciting news out of Mississippi, state lawmakers have voted to approve House Bill 1263, an important reform designed to recognize the out-of-state qualifications of licensed workers. Championed by Representative Becky Currie, Mississippi’s bill was modeled after the Goldwater Institute’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act, landmark legislation developed alongside the Institute for Justice and now law in states from coast to coast. The Goldwater Institute was pleased to work alongside the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, the Institute for Justice, and Americans for Tax Reform on this essential policy.

First passed in Arizona in 2019, universal recognition allows a state to recognize the out-of-state qualifications of a licensed worker, eliminating costly and unnecessary bureaucratic delays to work. Why is this such an important reform? The laws that govern the licensing of occupations can vary dramatically from state to state, meaning that workers are frequently caught up in a confusing web of licensing regulations, especially when they try to relocate to a new state. Where one state may require 100 hours of training to do a job, another may need 500, and that state won’t let a newcomer get to work until they’ve checked off the regulatory box. This bureaucratic disconnect forces countless workers to put their careers on hold simply to jump through expensive and time-consuming regulatory hoops.

This problem finds a clear solution in Mississippi’s newly passed reform. Now, so long as an individual has held an out-of-state license in good standing for at least one year, he or she is qualified to apply for and be quickly approved for a license at a similar scope of practice in Mississippi.

Commenting on the reform, Representative Currie explained that: “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.”

HB 1263 builds on Mississippi’s Military Family Freedom Act (MFFA), legislation passed last session 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 now extends the essential benefits of the MFFA to other skilled workers looking to bring their training and experience into Mississippi.

“People relocate for various reasons. We want to make sure people relocating to Mississippi can continue to use their license and training from another state without unnecessary burdensome requirements that interrupt their ability to earn a paycheck in their chosen field,” said Senator Angela Hill, who championed HB 1263 in the Senate.

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.

“In all states, onerous occupational licensure laws keep Americans from their right to earn a living,” explained Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, in a letter urging the Mississippi Senate to support recognition. “These barriers to work—which include, but are not limited to, excessive training and expensive fees—are often put in place by the politically connected as a way to protect themselves from competition.”

HB 1263 will help 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.

Dr. Jameson Taylor, Senior Vice President for Policy at the Mississippi Center for Public 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?”

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, Wyoming, 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 will help families of all kinds as they seek to build their lives and careers in Mississippi.  

Since Goldwater’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work law went into effect in Arizona in late 2019, more than 2,800 licenses have been granted in the state, 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, though recognition, 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.

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 efforts of Representative Becky Currie, Senator Angela Hill, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, Americans for Tax Reform, and all the workers and lawmakers who came out in support of this important reform. House Bill 1263 currently awaits the signature of Governor Tate Reeves.

Read more about how Goldwater’s Breaking Down Barriers to Work Act is ensuring Americans are free to work, no matter where life may take them.

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

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