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.

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