Measure creates universal recognition, waives fees for low-income workers, expands opportunity for ex-offenders

By Julie Grace for the Badger Institute

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is expected to sign a sweeping, common-sense occupational licensing reform bill this week that grants universal recognition to out-of-state licenses. As a result, a licensed cosmetologist, social worker or landscape architect from Wisconsin (or any other state) could readily secure the same license in Iowa if he or she moves there.

As Wisconsin struggles to emerge from the COVID-19 economic shutdown, state lawmakers should follow Iowa’s lead and remove licensing obstacles that impede workers’ ability to provide for themselves and their families.

If Reynolds signs the bill this week as expected, Iowa will join a growing list of states that recognize occupational licenses across state lines — essentially acknowledging that one’s qualification and competency to do a job are not determined by location. If applicants are licensed in good standing in another state, haven’t had their license revoked by that or another state, don’t have a criminal history substantially related to their occupation and pay all applicable fees, they can easily obtain a license in Iowa.

Iowa’s legislation is more expansive than previous licensure recognition bills because it considers past work experience in cases where Iowa requires an occupational license but the individual’s state of origin does not. So, if someone worked in a field for three or more years “with a substantially similar scope of practice within the four years preceding the date of the application,” the bill notes, he or she may be eligible for an Iowa license without undergoing additional training. This recognizes that if a person has already worked a job successfully in another state, he or she can continue doing so without having to complete repetitive training or education requirements.

This practice of recognizing out-of-state licenses was widely utilized by states (including Wisconsin) in anticipation of a health care worker shortage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of those changes, however, expired at the end of the public health emergencies.

As we’ve reported, the process of obtaining an occupational license when moving to Wisconsin — where the state places the burden on the applicant to prove his or her eligibility to work — can take over a year to complete, preventing the applicant from working in his or her desired field in the meantime.

Wisconsin has taken a step in this direction. Earlier this year, Gov. Tony Evers signed a bipartisan bill allowing Wisconsin to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses for military members and their spouses, a select group of workers who frequently move across state lines. Lawmakers should extend this reform to all occupational license applicants.

Iowa’s licensing reform goes even further to ensure that aspiring workers at all income levels and those with criminal backgrounds also have the opportunity to get licensed and work in their desired fields. The legislation waives licensing fees for individuals making less than 200% of the federal poverty line. This is substantial considering the average fee required to obtain a license in a low-income occupation in Iowa is $178, a high price for anyone looking to start a job in a new field. (In Wisconsin, the average fee for a low-income, licensed occupation is even higher — $259.)

The Iowa bill also ensures that a license can be revoked only for offenses that are directly related to an occupation. And it allows individuals with a criminal background to ask a licensing board if a prior conviction might prevent them from obtaining a license before they spend time and money completing certain requirements or submitting an application. A similar bill was introduced in Wisconsin recently but never received a vote.

The Iowa bill also extends certain telehealth provisions and allows continuing education courses for licensing requirements to be taken online — both positive steps that simplify and streamline these activities in ways that save workers time and resources while protecting public health.

Small, simple legislative changes like these will improve the lives of workers and residents. As Wisconsin’s economy continues to recover, Badger State lawmakers should adopt similar, sensible reforms that will ease burdens on current and future residents of Wisconsin.

Julie Grace is a Badger Institute policy analyst. Reposted with permission.

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