May 17, 2021
By Heather Curry

Many states have adopted the Goldwater Institute’s landmark Breaking Down Barriers to Work legislation to make it easier for military spouses to continue in their careers when they move from one state to another. Now, a newly introduced federal bill promises to bring this important reform to all military families across the country.

Senator Mike Lee recently introduced the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act, a bipartisan federal reform designed to ease the pathway to occupational licensure for military spouses. This legislation would amend the Servicemember Civil Relief Act to ensure that military spouses with valid professional licenses can re-license at a similar level in the state where their spouse is currently serving on military orders. The Goldwater Institute has long advocated for the universal recognition of occupational licenses, developing state-level legislation to benefit military families and skilled professionals alike.  

The average military family moves every two to three years, a reality which means many working spouses are required to re-license just as often. In many cases, the process to re-license in a new state is so costly and time-intensive that it disrupts careers permanently. Senator Lee’s reform would address this issue by ensuring licensed military spouses in good standing are able to apply for a license and be approved quickly. This streamlined approach will ease the transition into a new state for military families, ensuring that lives and careers do not need to be put on hold simply to check off a bureaucratic box.

Sen. Lee said of the bill, “Faced with a 50-state patchwork of licensing laws, military spouses are forced to spend thousands of dollars and hours to obtain licensure every time they move to a new state under military orders. This bill will help lift that unjust burden on our military families—who sacrifice so much to protect our nation—by ensuring that spouses can receive the licensing reciprocity they need across state lines.”

The Goldwater Institute has been diligently working to change the regulatory environment around occupational licensure for professionals of all kinds. In 2019, the Institute released a report that illustrated the challenges facing military families. The report notes that “all 50 states have laws or policies meant to ease the transition for military spouses in licensed professions. But those laws are so riddled with vague language, conditions, and exceptions as to render many virtually worthless. For the most part, a license from one state is not good in another. Some occupations can be practiced freely in one state yet carry extensive licensing requirements in others.” This report has been essential to advancing state legislation to benefit military families, such as in Ohio, Louisiana, and Kansas.

Many states are also pursuing similar reforms to benefit military families and professionals more broadly. In 2019, Arizona became the first state to enact Goldwater legislation to formally recognize the out-of-state occupational licenses of skilled professionals. Under universal recognition, licensed workers may apply for and quickly receive an Arizona license to work at a similar practice level. So long as an applicant has held a similar out-of-state license for at least one year and is in good standing, he or she is eligible to apply.

Arizona’s universal recognition law may be less than two years old, but early data shows that it is already having a tremendous effect. Since universal recognition went into effect in September 2019, more than 3,100 individuals have applied for and been granted an Arizona license to work in fields ranging from cosmetology to engineering to psychology.

Since Arizona’s law passed, 15 additional states from Utah to Pennsylvania have enacted versions of Goldwater’s licensing reform. Other states, like Missouri and Mississippi have successfully passed and then expanded legislation to add in the recognition of military training to ensure veterans also benefit from these reforms.

As Sen. Lee’s reform advances, states have the opportunity pursue reforms which can further reduce the burden of unnecessary regulation for military spouses and service members. Another challenge created by the patchwork of state licensing laws is the reality that not all occupations are licensed in all 50 states. Fortunately, the Goldwater model of recognition includes additional pathways to licensure through work experience and private certification. These pathways are beneficial to numerous professionals and ensure that state licensing laws aren’t a barrier to work.

As with similar reform efforts across the country, the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act has already garnered bipartisan support. By honoring the time and effort already invested in an out-of-state license, the reform empowers military spouses to pursue their own version of the American Dream even as they support the important work of America’s service members. The Goldwater Institute thanks Senator Lee for his commitment to military families and looks forward to supporting this coalition as it engages on the issue.

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

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