During his campaign for the governor’s mansion, Brian Kemp announced his dedication to cutting red tape. “My chainsaw is ready to rip up some regulations,” he proudly declared in a campaign ad, and he has been true to his word (metaphorically speaking, of course). Upon his inauguration, he set out to keep Georgia the best place to do business and remove barriers to employment. Indeed, he began his term with an ambitious agenda, and secured some laudable successes.
However, the brief honeymoon phase ended when Georgia—and the rest of the world—started facing incredible challenges. COVID-19 struck the Peach State roughly one year ago, and threw the economy into chaos. The pandemic’s impacts are still lingering—leaving many struggling to find work and make ends meet.
Understanding the challenges facing Georgians, Sen. Bruce Thompson (R-White) and Rep. Heath Clark (R-Warner Robins) are seeking to reform Georgia’s occupational licensing model to make it easier for people to find gainful employment. If their measures pass, Gov. Brian Kemp should give them special consideration, and in the process, rip up some more unnecessary regulations.
As it stands, approximately 25 percent of people need a license in order to work in their chosen profession—purportedly to demonstrate their professional competencies and protect consumers. Some licensed occupations in Georgia even include librarians, cemetery plot salespeople and auctioneers. Yet professional licenses aren’t easy to obtain. Georgia has highly burdensome occupational licensing regimes, requiring “on average, $185 in fees, 464 days of education and experience, and about two exams,” according to an Institute for Justice report.
“This keeps many out of the job market, but given that most occupational licenses are state-specific and do not cross state lines, those who relocate to Georgia and want to work here often have to begin the licensing process anew and clear unnecessary hurdles,” Rep. Clark said in an email exchange. However, many state governments have concluded that if someone has an out-of-state license in good standing, then they ought to be permitted to work anywhere in the United States.
In fact, no less than nine different states have enacted some form of universal occupational licensing recognition—meaning they recognize other states’ licenses. Georgia, however, has not adopted this approach. But it could certainly benefit from a similar paradigm, considering that the Peach State is the fifth most popular state to move to and more than a quarter of a million people relocated here in 2019. Many of these people held out-of-state licenses but were forced to stay out of the workforce until they acquired a Georgia occupational license.
“In some ways, Georgia’s model inflicts deleterious effects on the economy and the workforce, and it ought to be reformed” Rep. Heath Clark said after he and Sen. Thompson introduced companion bills to help those who move to Georgia more easily get back to work. While their legislation stops short of universal recognition, it would go far toward helping people who move here. If passed, it would direct licensing boards to provide licensure by endorsement to individuals with out-of-state licenses in good standing, so long as their license’s “training, experience, and testing are substantially similar in qualifications and scope to the requirements under this state to obtain a license.” Licensure by endorsement is exactly what it sounds like: It is the process by which a licensing board formally endorses people to work here based on their qualifications and out-of-state license.
For example, if enacted, this would mean that if someone had a license in good standing to work in Alabama, which requires 99 hours of education, and he/she moved to Georgia where the same license requires 100 hours of education, then that individual could apply for licensure by endorsement because the mandates are “substantially similar.” And why not? “If you’ve proven yourself to be a safe and skilled practitioner, you don’t lose those skills when you cross into Georgia,” Sen. Thompson pointed out.
This model helps workers avoid unnecessary impediments to employment, helps them provide for their families and brings Georgia in line with many other conservative states that have successfully pushed commonsense licensure reforms. Further, Sen. Thompson and Rep. Clark’s proposal would ensure that consumers would be protected by only permitting competent workers to engage in licensed occupations, and it would empower licensing boards to rescind instances of licensure by endorsement if the worker engages in any inappropriate activities.
In the end, this measure is good for the public, prospective workers and the economy. However, for Sen. Thompson, support for this bill should also boil down to a simple truth that most Georgians share: “We need to safely and responsibly make it easier for people to get back to work, not make it harder.”
Marc Hyden is the director of state government affairs for the R Street Institute.