Over the last 60 years, the number of jobs requiring an occupational license, or government approval to practice a profession, has grown from about 1 in 20 to nearly 1 in 4. When implemented properly, occupational licensing protects the health and safety of consumers by requiring practitioners to undergo a designated amount of training and education in their field. However, differences in occupational licensing laws among states create barriers for those looking to enter the labor market and make it harder for workers to relocate across state lines.
The Council of State Governments (CSG), in partnership with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA), recently released the final report from the partner organizations’ multi-year, Department of Labor-funded project: Occupational Licensing: Assessing State Policy and Practice.
The purpose of the project is to assist states in assessing occupational licensing policies and identifying best practices to improve labor market entry and portability for occupational license holders. The partner organizations provided targeted technical assistance to states which applied to be a part of the project’s Occupational Licensing Policy Learning Consortium, convened state policy-makers to review progress and provide learning opportunities and authored supporting policy resources.
Learn more and find a map of participating states at this link: https://licensing.csg.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/OL_2Pager_New.pdf
The 16 Consortium states organized teams of state leaders who attended convenings facilitated by CSG, NCSL and NGA. At these convenings state teams heard from national experts, exchanged ideas and best practices and developed objectives to be attained through the term of the project. Most state teams prioritized lowering barriers for individuals with criminal records by providing more specific guidance to licensing bodies, passing legislation reducing blanket bans based on convictions and removing “good moral character” clauses from state statutes. Every state team emphasized military members and their spouses and looked to actions such as joining interstate licensing compacts, lowering licensing fees and creating temporary licensing options to mitigate the effects of frequent relocation.
One of the foundational resources of the project is the development of a National Occupational Licensing Database to assist states in assessing licensure policies. The Database contains 30,000 datapoints on 48 occupations from all 50 states including information on education requirements, the cost of applications and exams, “good moral character” clauses and licensing board information. CSG, NCSL and NGA also produced supporting resources outlining historical and current trends in occupational licensing regulation, analyses of occupational licensing responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and a series of reports on four population groups who are disproportionately affected by occupational licensing laws: veterans and military spouses, individuals with a criminal record, foreign-trained workers and low-income and dislocated workers.
“The Consortium has been a tremendous resource for Connecticut in our continued effort to address occupational licensing barriers and develop new solutions to strengthen [our] workforce,” said Kurt Westby , commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Labor.
The final report, published by CSG, NCSL and NGA, encompasses the planning and collaboration efforts, successes and lessons learned by the state teams. The report’s findings provide other states a blueprint on how advances in occupational licensing policy can further state efforts to support military families, reintegrate individuals with criminal records, strengthen state workforces and reduce the economic effects of regulation.
In addition to the benefits afforded to state workforces, the report found the project itself helped Consortium states accomplish more in partnership than they could on their own. Consortium states enacted occupational licensing bills almost 20% more often than other states, and they led a nation-wide bipartisan trend in occupational licensure reform.
Since 2017, states have prioritized policies that improve licensure mobility benefit those disproportionately affected by regulation. Across the 50 states:
- 73 pieces of legislation were enacted affecting individuals with criminal records
- 51 bills were passed affecting veterans and military spouses
- 17 policies were adopted through legislation affecting immigrants with work authorization
- 42 states joined at least one interstate licensing compact and 106 individual pieces of licensing compact legislation have been passed.
The work of the Consortium demonstrates that effective partnerships among states, the federal government and partner organizations are effective in developing solutions to employment barriers and the challenges of an increasingly mobile, and increasingly remote, workforce. The Council of State Governments continues to support the work of states through additional funding provided by the U.S. Department of Labor as well as a new multi-year cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense to assist states in the development of interstate licensure compacts.
 Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Utah and Vermont