Occupational Licensing

Universal Recognition: A Win for American Workers, Consumers and the Economy

Universal recognition reform is gaining traction across America. That is a win for American workers, consumers and the economy. By reducing licensing barriers, states are making it easier for people to keep doing what they are most qualified to do, regardless of moves across state lines.

Championed by both the Obama and Trump Administrations—and hopefully by the Biden Administration—universal recognition policies require a state’s licensing boards to recognize occupational licenses, work experience and/or private certifications previously obtained by the worker out-of-state. This helps ease the overly burdensome and duplicative licensing process that often prevents workers from out of state from gaining employment in their chosen profession.

Arizona kickstarted the universal recognition occupational licensing reform movement in 2019 with a first-of-its-kind universal recognition law. Since the law was enacted, over 2,600 individuals have had their licenses recognized by Arizona boards, according to data from the Goldwater Institute. That is an additional 2,600 skilled workers that pay taxes and offer their services to fellow Arizonians.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for continued reform in 2020. States like New York especially felt the effects of occupational licensing restrictions when out-of-state healthcare workers were needed to meet the increased demand for healthcare services.

The good news is that states are responding to the demand for licensing reform. To date, these nine states have passed universal recognition legislation:

  • Iowa – 2020
  • Missouri – 2020
  • Idaho – 2020
  • Utah – 2020
  • Colorado – 2020
  • Arizona – 2019
  • Pennsylvania – 2019
  • Montana – 2019
  • New Jersey – 2018
  • Mississippi – 2020 – (military spouse recognition only)

There are additional states currently considering universal recognition reform. Wyoming could be the next state to pass universal recognition reform with SF 0018. After receiving strong testimony from the Platte Institute and Goldwater Institute (watch it here) and approval from both legislative chambers, the bill is heading to Governor Mark Gordon’s desk.

The Equality State is not alone. A few of the other states working on licensing recognition or similar reforms in 2021, include:

Each state takes a slightly different approach to the reform, but Nebraska’s bill stands out as the most comprehensive when compared to the ALEC Model Interstate-Mobility and Universal-Recognition Occupational Licensing Act. Passed in 2019 at the ALEC Annual Meeting and updated at the virtual States and Nation Policy Summit in 2020, the purpose of this model policy is to establish best practices for a process to recognize out-of-state licenses, private certifications and work experience completed in other states. Nebraska’s policy recognizes that not all states regulate the same occupations with licensure. The proposed legislation also recognizes work experience and private certifications from states that do not license an occupation.

As noted above, Georgia’s legislature deserves an honorable mention as lawmakers have also introduced bills addressing state licensing barriers. While SB 45 and HB 147 are not universal recognition, they do require Georgia boards to endorse other states’ licenses that have similar education and training requirements.

Universal recognition laws give Americans the flexibility and freedom they need to make good choices for their families, businesses and consumer needs. By recognizing honest and qualified workers, regardless of their state of origin, states open their economies and communities to people looking to contribute their skills and know-how. With COVID-19 reshaping so many lives, legislators can reduce licensing barriers that limit options and increase burdens on Americans looking for a new start and, perhaps, a new state to call home.

For more information regarding universal recognition policy or to join our monthly Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force Working Group, please email Michael Slabinski at mslabinski@alec.org or Gretchen Baldau at gbaldau@alec.org.