U.S. Air Force to Evaluate State Occupational Licensing Policies for Future Basing Decisions

In February, the United States Air Force released new criteria-based framework for its basing decision evaluation process that assesses state occupational licensing policies for supporting military families. The initiative by the Air Force is part of a larger trend by state policy makers and the departments of the military to facilitate interstate migration by military families and lower barriers to employment caused by occupational licensing.

The economic effects of licensure, such as increased cost for services and lower employment levels, are consequences of the protections they offer to public health and safety. The Air Force evaluation framework widens the impact overly burdensome licensure laws may have on a state’s economy and workforce by influencing the selection process for military installations. The economic activity generated directly by the operation of military installations and indirectly by the activities of servicemembers in the community contributes billions of dollars annually to state economies.

For the departments of the military, the availability of licensure portability options is an important factor for both military operational readiness and the longevity of service careers. A survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that 43% of service members with spouses consider the availability of equal career opportunities for both spouses to be a very important factor in their decision to continue military service. Further, a Blue Star Families survey showed that 36% of military spouses consider the inability to reliably earn two incomes to be one of their family’s top five stressors.

Military spouses are disproportionately affected by licensure policies due to frequent service-related interstate relocations and the types of careers they choose when compared their civilian counterparts. For example, on average 14.5% of military spouses/military families annually relocate to another state, compared to approximately 1.1% for the general population. Additionally, 34% of military spouses participating in the labor force are required to possess an occupational license, compared to approximately 25% for the entire labor force.

Military spouses are therefore more commonly burdened with navigating different state licensing regulations and reciprocity provisions which can require extra training hours, additional exams or higher educational attainment. This process can ultimately lead to delays for the military spouse to find gain employment.

The evaluation framework developed by the Air Force seeks to account for the state licensing state laws, executive orders, state supreme court and bar association rulings that accommodate military families during interstate relocations. States which provide substantial support have the opportunity to receive higher consideration by the Air Force during the basing selection process.

In particular, the evaluation criteria includes an assessment of a state’s:

  • Participation in interstate compacts

  • Military specific portability options including temporary licensure, expedited licensure and licensure by endorsements provisions

  • Policy specific language such as “substantially equivalent requirements”, instructions that licensing boards/departments “may accept” or “shall accept” licensure qualifications and requirements beyond proof of a home license (ex. background materials)

Almost every state has some sort of licensure portability policy specific for military members, veterans and their spouses, however, there is considerable variation in the allowances provided, the specific population group targeted and the occupations affected.

The Department of Labor maintains a database of these policies which categorizes each state based on the level of licensure recognition provided. The Department’s analysis of these policies shows that:

  • 15 states mandate the recognition of military spouse licenses
  • 24 states mandate the recognition of military spouse licenses if the home state has equivalent training standards
  • 6 states provide some discretion for the licensing authority’s ability to recognize military spouse licenses
  • 4 states have a licensure recognition process but which excludes many professions

Despite the extensive steps states have already taken, many continue to be proactive in implementing new and revised policies that provide additional support to military families, including those which relate to the criteria in the Air Force evaluation framework.

In September of 2019 a Texas law went into effect that allows military spouses to temporarily use their out of state license for three years at no additional cost. Spouses must be in good standing in the original state and the licensing requirements must be equivalent to Texas regulations.

In April of 2020, Missouri passed several bills that allow military spouses to file an application for an occupational license if they already hold a license from a state with similar or higher requirements. If the conditions are met, spouses will be issued a license within 30 days. The law covers all license issuing entities and the occupations they oversee.

States and professions have also increasingly turned to occupational licensure interstate compacts to mitigate challenges faced by workers as they navigate various state licensing requirements, rules, regulations and fee structures. Since January of 2017, 40 states have enacted 93 separate occupational licensure compact bills and a total of 42 states have enacted at least one occupational licensure compact. These compacts create reciprocal professional licensing practices between states while still ensuring the quality and safety of services and safeguarding state sovereignty. The uniformity they offer makes relocation or out of state work less burdensome for workers who would otherwise need to go through the full licensing process.

While states have been proactive improving their licensure policies, the federal government has also recently provided additional supports for military families.  The 2018 National Defense Authorization act allows each branch of the military to reimburse spouses for the licensure costs resulting from a service related-relocation to another state. Eligible spouses can be reimbursed up to $1,000 per move to cover related expenses such as exam costs and registration fees.

Given the economic impact of basing decisions and licensure policies, the introduction of the Air Force’s evaluative framework provides further motivation for states to consider ways to support military families negatively affected by overly burdensome licensure policies. As states evaluate their current policies, the framework also serves as a guide for the specific actions that can be made to improve employment outcomes during service related relocations.

Occupational Licensing – State COVID-19 Responses

  • The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in shortages of qualified, licensed health care and other related professions that are needed to support state and local responses.
  • States have been enacting measures to modify existing licensing regulations that remove barriers that may prevent an individual to assist in response efforts.
  • Many states have been granting temporary licensure for out-of-state professionals or those that are otherwise retired, still in training, or have lapsed licenses.
  • Certain health care practitioners in some states are being granted expanded scopes of practice.
  • Other states are removing barriers to allow for greater use of telemedicine services.
  • States are also waiving or suspending certain requirements related to the maintenance or attainment of licenses where they might require physical travel, interactions or might otherwise be difficult to achieve during the crisis.

Addressing the Problem

Occupational licensing serves as a way for states to help ensure the protection of public health and safety where there exists the potential for physical, emotional or financial harm. Each state maintains the authority to structure the scope of practice, education and other training requirements necessary for an individual to be granted the right to practice a certain profession. However, given the independent of licensing regulations between states, licensure portability can be particularly difficult to achieve without other supporting policy provisions. Further, achieving and maintain licensure can require significant time and financial investments and thereby decrease the current availability of practitioners.

This issue has been compounded by the recent increased demand in health care related occupations, which are commonly licensed. Increasing the supply of an already spread thin workforce has been one of the primary challenges states are facing. Unlike other disasters which may be more localized, COVID-19 is affecting every state. Even though the severity of cases may vary across the country, states may not be able to safely send health care workers harder hit states in case their own situation may worsen.

How Are States Impacted?

The occupational licensing policy responses by states are centered on how states can meet their health care demands now and relieve regulatory burdens or requirements impacted by COVID-19. Therefore, many of the policy actions involve temporarily waiving, suspending, or modifying licensing requirements or granting temporary licenses during state declarations of emergency.

Action in the States

States have been primarily taking occupational licensing related action through executive orders. Many legislatures have either adjourned or been suspended due to the crisis, however, some had the opportunity to also pass supporting legislation. Other state responses have come from existing provisions and procedures in place such as through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact which provides a process for states to request and allow out-of-state licensed workers.

Below is a sample of state actions related to occupational licensing:


  • Executive Order – Allows any person who holds a valid, unexpired license as a health care practitioner that is issued by another state to engage in the activities authorized under that license at a health care facility in Maryland.
  • Executive Order – Allows any inactive practitioner, at a health care facility in Maryland, to engage in activities that would have been authorized under his/her inactive license without first reinstating his/her inactive license
  • Executive Order – Extends expiration date of all licenses, registrations, and other authorizations for 30 days

New York

  • Executive Order – Allows unlicensed non-nursing staff to perform basic nursing tasks including swabs/tests

  • Executive Order – Allows physicians and nurse practitioners to issue non-patient-specific regimens to those authorized by law or exec. order to conduct swabs/tests; allows nurses to order tests.

  • Executive Order – Allows nurses, physicians assistants, physicians, respiratory therapists, and midwives licensed in other states to practice in the state without penalties.

  • Executive Order – Allows physician assistants, specialist assistants, nurse practitioners, professional nurses and practical nurses to exceed their normal practice scope and to operate without a supervising physician

  • Executive Order – Allows nursing/medical students to volunteer at medical centers without any formal arrangement (and to collect educational credit for it); also allows grads of foreign med schools with one year of postgrad training to provide patient care

  • Executive Order – Allowing pharmacists/pharmacy technicians to practice remotely

South Dakota

  • Executive Order – Triggers provisions relating to the Emergency Management Assistance Compact; grants full recognition to emergency licenses of practitioners from compact states.


  • Executive Order – Declaration of emergency triggers statutory provision allowing licensed out-of-state medical professionals and retired Utah professionals to acquire temporary emergency licenses in Utah; application fees are also waived.


  • H.742 –Creates fast tracks for out-of-state licensed healthcare and mental health professionals, retired healthcare and mental health professionals, and new graduates to join or return to the Vermont workforce.

West Virginia

  • Executive Order – Suspends expiration dates of medical licenses; suspends requirements that boards of certification/registration conduct investigations within a certain timeframe.
  • Executive Order – Allows licensed out-of-state nurses and doctors to practice in in the state (including telemedicine) without any further certification; suspends continuing education requirements; allows retired physicians to return to practice without having to re-certify.
  • Executive Order – Eases requirements for issuance of temporary permits for medical students to practice respiratory care; waives medical license renewal fees for respiratory care practitioners

Expected Outcomes

The COVID-19 state actions related to occupational licensing aim to increase the supply of qualified health care practitioners by removing certain barriers created by regulation. States are also taking action to ensure licensure requirements by non-health or other COVID-19 related response occupations are not adversely impacted by stay at home orders, travel restrictions or other interruptions to normal operations relative to the license.

Wisconsin Considering Sunrise Legislation

Legislation recently introduced in Wisconsin could change the way the state studies proposed occupational licensing regulations. Sponsored by Senator Chris Kapenga and Representative Rob Hutton, Senate Bill 541 calls for the establishment of a sunrise review process that would formally require certain information to be collected and analyzed during the legislative process.

Specifically, SB 541 proposes that the sunrise reviews evaluate the following:

  • The risk to public health, safety, and welfare;
  • Public benefit gained from the requirement for the license;
  • The least restrictive regulation available that will effectively protect the public;
  • Licensure requirements for that occupation in other states;
  • Number of individuals or businesses that would be affected by the requirement.

The legislation serves as another example of how states are taking steps to refine their occupational licensing policy processes. While it is well known by states that occupational licensure can serve as an effective means to protect public health and safety and ensure consumer confidence in a profession, there is wide discretion that can be taken during the policy making process. This can include decisions regarding the form of licensure to implement and its related requirements. With these decisions, there are many factors a state can take in to account, including relevant data on instances of harm, existing protections, other states’ licensing practices, and employment numbers and trends.

Sunrise reviews are a type of policy tool designed to address these questions. The reviews are conducted when there is a proposal to either create new or substantially change occupational licensing regulations. While some of the information typically included in a sunrise review could be identified during the legislative process, some states see these reviews as a way to ensure consistency in the information collected and studied. Further, the reviews can be used as a formal way to consider a proposal against a state’s defined criteria for licensing.

Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Hawai’i, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia are the states currently with active sunrise review provisions. Though these states may prescribe different processes and requirements for the sunset reviews, there are common elements to their design including descriptions of the review’s contents and the timeline and process for completion,.

With SB 541, Wisconsin is considering becoming one of these states. At a recent public hearing hosted by the Wisconsin Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensure, and State-Federal Relations, Sen. Kapenga, who also chairs the committee, and Rep. Hutton presented the bill.

“If somebody comes forward from a profession and wants to create a new type of license, we want to make sure we go through a standard process to identify the lowest form of licensure that would still address public safety risks,” said Sen. Kapenga on the bill.

Numerous other organizations were present at the hearing to provide comment – including The Council of State Governments, which profiled the different state sunrise review structures.

With the Wisconsin legislature convening throughout the year, further deliberations on the proposed bill will serve as additional examples of how states are considering processes like sunrise reviews.

Consortium States Present Occupational Licensure Reform Successes at Washington D.C. Briefing

On November 13th, The Council of State Governments, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Governor’s Association, and representatives from the states participating in the Occupational Licensing Policy Learning Consortium were on hand to share some of the successes stemming from the multi-year, Department of Labor funded project. The event saw over 60 individuals in attendance, representing a variety of public and nonprofit policy organizations

Utah Representative Norm Thurston discussed some of the state’s accomplishments during the project, including a very active 2019 legislative session. Rep. Thurston specifically highlighted SB 227 (2017), which provides automatic recognition of occupational licenses held by military spouses, and HB 226 (2019), which authorizes the use of competency-based licensing.  

Wisconsin Representative Robert Brooks also presented at the morning briefing to share news on his state’s occupational licensing reform momentum. Included in the highlights were Wisconsin’s recent major reduction in licensing fees that were in part a result from a recent study on the state’s occupational licensing regulations.

Gauri Rege, a researcher from the American Institutes for Research (AIR), introduced the recently completed case studies on the original 11 consortium states, which include Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, and Wisconsin. AIR authored the studies which examine policy actions from each consortium state through stakeholder interviews and qualitative analyses of the policy process.

With occupational licensure remaining a major focus for states heading into 2020, the policy accomplishments of the consortium states serve as beneficial examples of how both state peer learning and intra-state engagement can help propel continued policy momentum.

Nevada Reviews Legislative Success and Licensing Reform at In-State Consortium Meeting

Nevada hosted its 2019 Occupational Licensing Policy and Practice Learning Consortium In-State meeting on Sept. 6 in Las Vegas. The state’s Occupational Licensing Consortium Core Team of legislators, executive branch employees and regulatory board members convened to review this year’s progress and plan for future success. The Nevada officials were joined by representatives from The Council of State Governments, the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Governor’s association to provide technical assistance and facilitation.

The Nevada Core Team reviewed notes from the second annual meeting of the Multi-State Learning Consortium in Clearwater, Fla. that took place in December 2018 and then reviewed relevant bills that passed in the 2019 legislative session. According to a legislative update released on June 19, 2019 by the Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau’s Research Division1, the legislature enacted 33 bills concerning occupational and professional licensing. Four bills concerned general matters affecting the majority of Nevada’s occupational and professional regulatory boards. Seventeen Bills were passed relating to the “healing arts,” including Oriental medicine, physical therapy, optometry and pharmacy. Twelve bills were enacted that relate to contractors, environmental health specialists, cosmetologists, teachers and other regulated professions.

According to the legislative update, “This session, regulators and legislators discussed the current landscape of licensing requirements and committed to improving their understanding of where Nevada’s laws may create unnecessary barriers to economic opportunity.” To quickly asses the general function of the state’s licensing boards, the legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 6 directing the existing Sunset Subcommittee of the Legislative Commission to conduct an interim study concerning professional and occupational licensing boards.2

Several bills were passed that focus on disproportionately affected populations, including immigrants with work authorization, veterans and military spouses, and individuals with criminal records.

  • AB275 prohibits a regulatory body from denying licensure of applicants based solely on their immigration or citizenship status as long as they are authorized to work in the U.S. and allows an applicant for a professional or occupational license who does not have a social security number to provide an individual taxpayer identification number.3
  • AB319 authorizes a person to petition a professional or occupational licensing board for a determination of whether the person’s criminal history will disqualify them from obtaining a license, requires a professional or occupational licensing board to implement a process for such a petition, and authorizes a regulatory body to post requirements for obtaining a license and a list of crimes that would disqualify a person for a license on its website. Additionally, the bill requires licensing boards to include certain information concerning the determinations of qualification or disqualification in their quarterly reports to the Legislative Counsel Bureau.4
  • SB100 requires expedited processing of applications for a license to teach for spouses of certain members of the military and requires school districts to consider a veteran’s Joint Services Transcript or a similar document to satisfy qualifications for certain jobs. The bill also permits members of the military and their spouses to obtain a license to teach through the alternative route to licensure program under certain circumstances, including if they obtained a teaching license in another state through an equivalent alternative route.5

Additional bills were passed that focus on occupations specifically targeted by Nevada’s Core Team.

State Contractors Board

  • AB25 changes various provisions governing contractors. The bill authorizes the State Contractors’ Board to delegate authority to hold certain hearings to a hearing officer or panel. It expands the period that a license applicant must have received certain experience before applying for a license. It repeals requirements that certain financial information must be reported to renew a residential construction contractor’s license, increases the period that a license may be inactive from five years to eight years and authorizes licensees on active duty in the military to apply to have their contractor’s license reinstated under certain circumstances.6
  • AB26 Revises provisions governing payments from the Recovery Fund by the State Contractors’ Board. The bill increases the amount of money that the State Contractors’ Board or its designee may pay out of the Recovery Fund to an injured person for certain claims against a residential contractor and increases the maximum amount of money that can be recovered from a claim against a single contractor. The act also revises the information that a residential contractor must include in certain written statements relating to the Recovery Fund.7
  • AB27 revises provisions for cease and desist orders issued by the State Contractors’ Board for acting as a contractor or submitting a bid on a job without a license. The act includes certain actions that the Board is required or authorized to take after issuing a cease and desist order, authorizes a person who is issued a cease and desist order to contest it within a certain period and describes the circumstances under which the order shall be deemed a final order of the Board.8

Nevada Physical Therapy Board

  • SB186 requires the Nevada Physical Therapy Board and the Board of Athletic Trainers to adopt regulations establishing the qualifications a physical therapist or an athletic trainer, as applicable, must obtain before he or she is authorized to perform dry needling.9

State Board of Cosmetology

  • SB208 revises the education and service requirements for hair designers and estheticians, removes the service of electrolysis from the definition of “cosmetologist” and revises the procedures for the issuing and activating a license for a cosmetological establishment. Specifically, this bill reduces the amount of training required to take the cosmetology exam from 1,200 hours to 1,000 for certain applicants and reduces the amount of service required as a hair designer’s apprentice from 2,400 hours to 2,000 hours.10

In addition to the legislative success Nevada has enjoyed, the state’s Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation partnered with the Governor’s Office of Workforce Innovation on a $449,999 US Department of Labor grant. According to an Office of Workforce Innovation report11, the grant will be used to compare licensed occupations with the most in-demand occupations in the state, reexamine the state’s occupational licensure and focus its efforts to better serve dislocated workers, transitioning service members and veterans by identifying existing policies that create unnecessary barriers to the labor market.

Executive Director Cathy Dinauer of the Nevada State Board of Nursing presented on current efforts to address the shortage of nurses in the state. The lack of certified nursing assistants, or CNAs, is exacerbated by a lack of qualified instructors, a high failure rate among students (particularly in high school programs) and the prohibitive cost of education. In response, the Office of Workforce Innovation and the Department of Employment Training and Rehabilitation awarded a grant to the Nevada System of Higher Education and the Nevada Action Coalition/Nevada Nursing and Workforce Center to create NVHOPE. NVHOPE’s purpose is to train registered nurses to become CNA instructors and to train unemployed/underemployed individuals to become CNAs at the College of Southern Nevada and Great Basin College. Three CNA trainers have graduated the program, with hopes to educate a total of 50. Until this year, there were no training programs in Nevada for licensed practical nurses, or LPNs, but the College of Southern Nevada received approval in January 2019 to open an LPN program. The Nevada Department of Education made progress in their project to start an LPN program in high schools when the State Board of Nursing approved their LPN standards in January 2019. Nevada is not currently part of the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC), and a bill that proposed joining the compact failed to garner a sponsor in the 2019 legislative session.

Nancy Mathias, The Nevada Contractors Board Licensing Administrator, gave the next update. The Board eliminated the requirement for businesses to undergo a financial review for licensing because the reviews were not found to have meaningful results or add to public protection. Additionally, the costs of the financial reviews were burdensome, especially for small companies. The Board is also taking steps to recognize master’s degrees and military experience for licensing purposes. According to the Contractors Board website, when a veteran applies for a contractor’s license the Board will assign a specialized staff member “trained to evaluate transferrable Military training and experience from all branches of the Military that meet minimum licensure requirements, in addition to evaluating college transcripts to help verify acceptable educational credit and experience.”12 Dedicated staff members are also available to assist military spouses to expedite the licensing process.

In a general discussion, the Nevada Core Team expressed continuing interest in license reciprocity to help alleviate shortages of key workers, including teachers and nurses. Stakeholders discussed additional ways to improve the licensing process for military spouses to lower their unemployment rate and fill vacancies in in-demand occupations. The team will continue to help persons with a criminal background reenter the workforce to lower recidivism. The team ended the day by planning for the third annual meeting of the Multi-State Learning Consortium in Park City, Utah, that took place Sept. 11-13.

As states across the country reassess professional licensing, Consortium states lead in licensing reform and legislative progress. The Nevada Core Team is committed to ongoing improvement of Nevada’s licensing environment and maintaining momentum after the Consortium grant ends.


  1. Nevada Legislative Counsel Bureau Research Division. (June 19, 2019) Update to the Occupational Licensing Policy and Practice Learning Consortium Nevada Core Team
  2. NV SCR6. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/6849/Overview
  3. NV AB275. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/6498/Overview
  4. NV AB319. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/6580/Overview
  5. NV SB100. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/6088/Overview
  6. NV AB25. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/5925/Overview
  7. NV AB26. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/5926/Overview
  8. NV AB27. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/5927/Overview
  9. NV SB186. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/6314/Overview
  10. NV SB208. Retrieved from https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/6352/Overview
  11. Office of Workforce Innovation. (June 2018) January – June 2018 Semiannual Report to the Interim Finance Committee.
  12. Nevada State Contractor’s Board. (Oct 2019) Programs for Members of the Military, Military Spouses, and Veterans. http://www.nscb.nv.gov/vap.html

Virginia Becomes First State to Fully Digitize Professional Licensing

On Sept. 3, 2019, Virginia became the first state to fully digitize its professional licensing and credentialing system. Many professions take advantage of current technology to offer digital copies of licenses and certifications, but before September, no state offered universal electronic licensing. Through a partnership between the Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation and the free online credentialing service, Merit, all licensed professionals in Virginia will be able to receive a digital copy of their license. According to the 2018-2020 Virginia appropriations bill, electronic licenses now satisfy any statute or regulation that requires credentials to be posted, displayed or produced.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced the partnership stating, “Electronic credentials will help cut red tape and modernize what is currently an antiquated system. The innovative use of technology by a state agency to streamline and enhance its services to Virginia’s citizens, consumers, workers and industry is one of the reasons why our Commonwealth is the best place for business.”

Starting immediately, the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation will issue digital licenses and invite licensed professionals to create an online account with Merit. Once professionals create an account, they will always have access to a digital copy of their most recent licenses and certifications using Merit’s website or mobile app. Professionals will also be electronically notified when licenses must be renewed. Digital licenses will be issued in addition to physical licenses, and professionals will still receive mail and physical licenses from the department.

Digital credentials are now available to all 310,000 licensed professionals in over 40 professions serviced by the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. These benefits come at no cost to licensees or to the state, and no funds were set aside in the 2018–2020 appropriations bill for this service.

The Home Builders Association of Virginia represents more than 83,000 licensed members and supports the partnership.

“This partnership is the beginnings of an infrastructure that will help ensure that people with the right skills find the right jobs,” said CEO M. Craig Toalson. “This new system will make licensing easier for everyone involved and will allow workers to spend less time navigating a complex paperwork process and more time focusing on the careers that they love.”

This announcement comes less than two years after Virginia Regulatory Reduction Pilot Program (HB 883) was signed into law by Gov. Northam. The program aims to reduce 25% of regulations and regulatory requirements in the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation by July 1, 2021.

Wisconsin Reduces Licensing Fees for Nearly 75% of Licensed Occupations

Occupational licensure is one of the most overarching labor market issues facing low-income workers. The proportion of the labor force required to obtain a license exceeds that of both minimum wage earners and union members.1,2,3 The costs of licensing, such as exams, training courses, continuing education, and application and renewal fees, can present significant barriers to work, particularly for those for whom money is the tightest: Americans who are low-income, unemployed, and/or dislocated workers.  

On July 1, a new occupational licensing fee structure went into effect in Wisconsin that brought down licensing fees for 127 licensed occupations and professions—approximately 75% of all occupations and professions licensed by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services (DSPS). An estimated 361,000 individuals who apply for or renew a Wisconsin license during the next biennium will pay a reduced fee as a result, promoting new economic activity and making it easier for low-income individuals to climb the economic ladder. Initial application fees were reduced by an average of $26.78, and renewal fees saw an average reduction of $57.42. This is approximately a 32.5% reduction in the average total fees associated with obtaining a license in Wisconsin.4

The change stems from Wisconsin Statute § 440.03(9)(a), which requires DSPS to conduct a licensing fee study every two years.5 Moreover, under chapters 440 and 480 of Wisconsin statutes, licensing fees charged to occupations and businesses under the department’s authority must be at cost.6,7 That is, licensing fees must not exceed the approximate administrative and enforcement costs of regulating those occupations and professions. According to DSPS, the new fees are projected to provide sufficient revenue to cover existing operating expenses and afford the department the ability to maintain staffing levels that will ensure customer service remains a top priority. 

Fee changes of this magnitude have not occurred in Wisconsin since the 2009-2011 biennium. This most recent fee study was the first to utilize new data on the costs associated with administering occupational licenses that is more accurate and detailed than what was previously available. As a result, the department was able to make more precise estimates of operating costs and thus usher in the first major overhaul of licensing fees in a decade.  

“Thanks to technology integration and advancements, the department can better manage resources needed to regulate professional licenses and credentials while passing on those savings to our customers,” said DSPS Secretary Dawn B. Crim. “Lowering financial barriers for people who enter these professions for the first time as well as making the renewal process more affordable promotes economic growth and stability while protecting the citizens of Wisconsin who rely on these professional services.”

Wisconsin is one of 16 states chosen to participate in the National Occupational Licensing Learning Consortium, which is a multi-year program coordinated in part by The Council of State Governments that explores ways to reduce unnecessary barriers to labor market entry and streamline licensing processes. The other states selected are Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Vermont.


  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018). Data on certificates and licensing. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/cps/cpsaat49.pdf
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019). Characteristics of minimum wage workers, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/minimum-wage/2018/pdf/home.pdf
  3. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019). Union Members – 2018. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/union2.pdf
  4. Carpenter, D. M., Knepper, L., Sweetland, K., & McDonald, J. (2017). License to Work: A National Study of Burdens from Occupational Licensing 2nd Edition. Arlington, VA: Institute for Justice. Retrieved from http://ij.org/wp-content/themes/ijorg/images/ltw2/License_to_Work_2nd_Edition.pdf
  5. Wis. Stat. § 440.03. Retrieved from http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/440/I/03/9/a
  6. Wis. Stat. § 440. Retrieved from https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/440
  7. Wis. Stat. § 480. Retrieved from https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/480

Should Licensing Reformers Still Be Talking About African Hair Braiding?

If you’ve studied the issue of occupational licensing reform for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly heard about African hair braiders. The issue of state government regulating the hair braiding industry is a compelling one. Why would a state subject a hair braider to obtain a full cosmetology license, endure hundreds of hours of unnecessary coursework and pay thousands of dollars before they can legally work? Furthermore, the courses required to obtain the required license do not even directly apply to hair braiding but are more focused on general cosmetology issues like handling chemicals and cutting hair.

Major political figures on both sides of the isle have spoken about this argument including former Vice-President Joe Biden who said, “If you are a hair braider, you braid people’s hair, you have to get a license to do something like 400 hours of training in another state.”

The personal anecdotes are even more compelling. This is a trade extends back thousands of years and has been passed down through generations of family traditions. Why then would a state feel it necessary to interject and force braiders to go back to school and get a license that is not even applicable to their trade?

If you have been to a meeting on occupational licensing reform or researched the topic online for more than a few minutes, you will no doubt have seen African hair braiding brought up as a reason we should overhaul state occupational regulation. Reformers point to the personal anecdotes, and the burdensome licensing requirements for cosmetologists being unjustly applied to braiders.

The only problem is states have, for the most part, already addressed this issue. In 2019 only 7 states still require a full cosmetologists license for African hair braiders. In 2014 that number was 24 states. In the past 5 years, 17 states have either removed the licensing requirement for hair braiders or created a specialty license with significantly reduced amount of training required.

Hawaii, Idaho, Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Wyoming are the only states that continue to require a full cosmetology license for their African hair braiders. 28 states completely exempt hair braiding from licensure: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia. The remaining states have a specialty license for hair braiding with significantly reduced number of training hours required.

Hair braiding is continuously used as an example to convince policymakers that state occupational licensing is a broken system that needs fixing. However, policymakers should also be made aware that the majority of states have fixed the issues regarding barriers into this occupation.

Sensationalists claims are often touted which grab attention but studying the issue will lead you to the conclusion that state government largely did its job. Lawmakers realized that requiring a cosmetology license for hair braiders is not good regulation and did something to fix the issue.  Yet the incessant rhetoric from reform groups will have you believing that every state still punishes hair braiders in this way.

Comparing one occupation to another is never apples to apples. Each industry has unique challenges and responsibilities to the public. Hair braiders and dentists are two entirely different professions. Arguments which lump all of state licensing into one single system run the risk of pushing reform where reform is not needed and would be harmful to public safety. Comparing dramatically different professions misses the larger point about what the aim of licenses is and whom they are designed to protect.

Let’s move past the stories hair braiders who were shut down and fined by the state cosmetology board. States learned from their mistakes and fixed the issue. Let’s have more informed, industry-specific conversations about occupational licensing that don’t paint regulation as a broken system because of a few anecdotes.  

Understanding Arizona’s Universal Occupational Licensing Recognition Bill

In his 2019 State of the State address, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, former CSG Toll Fellow, urged the Legislature to pass legislation granting universal recognition for occupational licenses, saying “workers don’t lose their skills simply because they move to Arizona.” HB 2569 which was signed into law by Gov. Ducey in April, makes Arizona the first state in the country that allows an individual licensed in another state to receive a comparable license upon moving to Arizona if they meet certain criteria.

What the law does

Arizona’s new universal licensing recognition law makes it easier for people who are already licensed in another state to get licensed at the same level in Arizona. Under the new law, Arizona’s licensing boards will recognize out-of-state occupational licenses for people who have been licensed in their profession for at least one year, are in good standing in all states where they are licensed, pay applicable Arizona fees, and meet all residency, testing, and background check requirements. Applicants interested in receiving their Arizona license under the new law should contact the appropriate Arizona licensing board for an application.

What the law does not do

The new law does not recognize other states’ occupational licenses automatically. For example, workers licensed in other states who move to Arizona still must apply for a license through the appropriate Arizona licensing board before working. However, under the new law, workers will not be required to duplicate training and other requirements that often delay or prevent them from getting to work. In some instances, the applicant may be required to take a state specific Arizona licensing exam if the state board requires it. 

How does this law affect interstate compacts? 

Arizona HB 2569 does not affect the way reciprocity works for states and professions who have enacted interstate compacts. Due to the contractual nature of the agreement, an interstate compact supercedes all existing and new state law that conflicts with it. Arizona has currently enacted 4 of the 5 occupational licensing interstate compacts which means that practitioners in nursing, physical therapy, medicine, and psychology looking to relocate to Arizona will undergo the same process as if they were moving to any other active compact state.  

How does this bill protect public health and safety? 

Arizona’s new universal licensing law ensures protections for public health and safety. In order to qualify for a license under the new law, an applicant must be in standing in all states where they are licensed and not have any past or pending investigations or complaints. Arizona licensing boards will be required to verify that an individual is in good standing in all states where they are licensed. Individuals seeking to work in occupations that require a background check, such as nurses and behavioral health professionals, will still need to complete those background checks. A person may be prevented from receiving a license in Arizona if they have disqualifying criminal background. In addition, professionals receiving licenses under the new law can only become licensed in practice within areas they have been trained and certified to practice in their original state.

HB 2569 is an expansion of an existing reciprocity statute that allows military members and spouses to easily transfer their occupational license or certification into Arizona. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Warren Petersen, points to this measure as proof that licensure reciprocity can work, at least on a small scale. Many states already have license recognition for military spouses, but Arizona is the first state to include all out of state applicants looking to relocate to Arizona.

Gov. Ducey said, “Just because someone moves from Illinois does not mean that they lose their skill when they get to Arizona. Why should someone have to suffer the burden of thousands of dollars, weeks or months of recertification to learn a skill that they already have?” Occupational licesing reform has been a priority during Gov. Ducey’s time in office. During the 2017 legislative session, he signed an Executive Order which required state licensing boards to provide justification for licensing requirements that the Governor’s office deemed excessive. Gov. Ducey also signed the “Right to Earn a Living Act” which restricted state boards from creating any new licenses that can not be justified by health and safety concerns.  

The bill faced some criticism from regulators and concerned practitioners who assert that another state’s licensing standards may not be as stringent as they need to be to ensure health and safety protection. Arizona Rep. Pamela Powers Hannley opposed the bill, saying “We don’t really know what the standards are in other states. Why should we dumb down our standards just to deregulate?” Other legislators are supportive of the concept but worry about the practice. Rep. Amish Shah balks at the use of the term “reciprocity,” seeing HB 2569 as a one-way street into Arizona without compromise from other states.

Professional advocacy groups such as the National Board for Certified Counselors have voiced concerns that granting a license even if the previous state has much lower licensing requirements effectively lowers standards for occupational licensure in Arizona, though most of these groups are generally supportive of increased licensure portability.

Bill sponsor Rep. Warren Peterson said,  “If you hold an occupational license in another state and move to Arizona, we want to get you to work right away. HB 2569 gets government out of the way and lets qualified professionals get right to work.” Petersen views this bill as an opportunity to “get government out of the way and let [workers] get to work.” Petersen told CSG his desire is for “Arizona to be the best place in America to do business, the most welcoming state to people who want to move somewhere…where they are valued for their talent and work ethic and desire to contribute and produce, rather than arbitrary red tape.”

Utah Passes Legislation Allowing Competency-Based Occupational Licensing Requirements

Traditional occupational licensing standards typically require that applicants achieve a certain number of hours of training, education and/or experience and pass a cumulative examination before a license is granted by a state. However, the time-based requirements that states implement can vary widely. For example, aspiring barbers can be required to complete between 1,000 and 2,100 hours of training, depending on the state, before they are eligible for a license. This variance in standards demonstrates the discretion states can take in setting regulations that seek to balance public protection with economic opportunity. While licensing is a means to safeguard public health and safety, overly burdensome regulations can exacerbate the economic costs of licensing such as lower economic outputs and fewer jobs.

Seeking to reduce the regulatory burden on workers, the state of Utah established an alternative to time-based licensing requirements by passing House Bill 226, which grants its Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing the ability to implement competency-based requirements.

Rep. Norm Thurston, the sponsor of HB226, explained that competency-based requirements “involve a person learning skills at their own pace where they are subjected to competency-based examinations along the way to prove that they have attained those skills.”

In other words, competency-based requirements allow an individual to demonstrate their achievement of a certain skill as they obtain it. Instead of an individual having to fulfill the minimum number of hours and take a cumulative examination to receive a license, they can demonstrate competency throughout their training and education. With an individual being allowed to progress at their own pace, inefficiencies and redundancies in the licensing process are lessened and thus, the economic costs of licensing standards are reduced.

Thurston said that the legislation will primarily help individuals who may experience difficulties through the traditional system.

“It advantages two types of people,” he said. “First it helps anyone who can learn the skills quicker, maybe because of prior experience, greater aptitude or better instructors. It also benefits those who struggle in the traditional testing model such as people with test anxiety or individuals with disabilities.”  

The bill provides the director of Utah’s Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing the discretion to implement competency-based requirements for licensure where it is determined that it is “at least as effective as a time-based licensing requirement at demonstrating proficiency and protecting the health and safety of the public.”

Thurston said he imagines the model being used in partnership with traditional training programs through community colleges, apprenticeships programs and specialty schools, which may already be implementing this type of model but could benefit from pairing it with licensing standards.

Thurston further envisions that competency-based requirements could be used to create a licensure continuum where individuals are able receive credentials to perform certain services as they continue their education and training.

“For example, a cosmetologist may be able to pass the competency examinations to cut hair but maybe is not ready to use chemicals or color hair,” he said. “This model could allow the cosmetologist to start working and earn income as they are still learning other skills to receive further certifications.”

As states look to improve time to licensure and reduce its economic effects, competency-based requirements serve as an innovative alternative to the traditional licensing process.