Occupation licensing system faces changes
Bills suggest new standards for applicants with criminal records
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s system of occupational licensing has received more attention during the past three years than it has for decades.
The introduction of companion House and Senate bills last week to set new standards for state occupational boards to use when considering licenses for applicants with criminal records is just one sign of the growing interest in the topic.
The reason for the interest among Gov. Tom Wolf, lawmakers of both parties and various advocacy groups is that occupational licensing reform lies at the intersection of two major public policy issues — workforce development and criminal justice reform.
“That seems to be the kind of magic nexus politically,” said Steve Bloom, vice president of the Commonwealth Foundation and former House lawmaker.
“It’s not a partisan issue; it’s a practical issue,” Bloom said.
The thrust in both cases is seeing that state licensing standards don’t stand in the way of having enough qualified workers to meet employers’ needs or ex-criminal offenders reentering the workforce.
Balanced against those concerns is the need to protect consumers, discipline errant licensees and improve the quality of service in such vital fields as medicine, pharmacies, occupational therapy, real estate sale and social work.
Pennsylvania has 29 professional boards and commissions to regulate 255 types of licenses and about 1 million licensees under the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs in the Department of State. The Board of Nursing is the largest unit licensing more than 300,000 nurses and dietitian-nutritionists.
Other forms of regulation include registration and certification, bonding, insurance rules and continuing education and training requirements.
Occupational licensing has become a bigger deal in the workplace during the past 50 years. One in five full-time workers nationwide needs a license to do their job today, compared to one in 20 in the 1950s, according to a report issues last year by BPOA. States have passed laws adding license requirements for more occupations in the ensuing years.
In proposing job licensing reforms one year ago, Wolf observed the pendulum is now swinging away from expanded licensing to a recognition of the need to reduce restrictions that prevent skilled workers from getting jobs.
“We must cut the red tape, reduce the bureaucracy and ensure overly burdensome rules and fees do not block hardworking people — especially our military spouses — from getting a good job, supporting their families and growing our economy,” Wolf said.
A 2015 national study by the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Treasury’s Office of Economic Policy and Council of Economic Advisors recommended requiring licenses for jobs that protect public health and safety and using less restrictive steps such as certification and registration where those are lesser concerns.
A few states — Rhode Island, Connecticut and Arizona — have passed laws recently to rollback license requirements.
Drawing on the state- and federal-level studies, Wolf has proposed repealing 13 job licenses and replacing them with registration or certification requirements. These include auctioneer, barber, cemetery salesperson, campground membership salesperson, natural hair braider, orthotic fitter, practitioner of Oriental medicine while keeping the acupuncturist license, rental listing referral agent and vehicle factory representative.
Wolf has pledged to speed up the licensing process to reduce most reviews to no more than 10 days, with the BPOA review noting that processing times range from less than a day at several boards to 53 days at the State Real Estate Commission.
House Majority Caucus Whip Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, told Capitolwire in December that delays in licensing physicians and nurses hurts the ability of health care practices to operate.
Wolf also called for legislation to make it easier for military spouses to use a license issued elsewhere for work when they move to Pennsylvania.
Similar ideas are being entertained by lawmakers.
The House on May 15 voted unanimously to pass House Bill 1172 which would require state licensing boards to issue licenses by endorsement to someone who holds the same license in another state and meets similar requirements. The bill also allows for a provisional endorsement license.
“This will afford military, military spouses and other professionals greater ease in obtaining a Pennsylvania license and reduce the barriers to employment,” said House Professional License Committee Majority Chairman David Hickernell, R-Lancaster, the bill sponsor.