Cutting Red Tape On Job Licensing

Cutting Red Tape On Job Licensing
Bipartisan measures from Washington lawmakers would make critical structural changes to the state's occupational licensing system. Supporters say consumers and taxpayers would benefit, as well as professionals across a host of fields, from medicine to landscape architects. Photo: Medex Magazine.

Nearly one-third of Washington jobs require government-issued occupational licenses or certificates, more than in all but two other states. Licensing delays and red tape are too frequent, and the state needs to substantially improve how it handles credentialing professionals. That’s the message in recent public testimony on new legislation, from representatives of licensees.

One aim is to make occupational licenses more portable. Bipartisan companion bills in the House and Senate would allow Washington physicians to join colleagues in a now-18-state consortium who can more easily get credentialed across state lines. The pact lets doctors serve some patients remotely, via video conferencing.

Another set of measures would task the governors and state legislators of Washington, Oregon, and California with figuring out how to improve license portability for other professions. There is also an attempt in Washington to eliminate unnecessary licensing requirements in several professions.

Washington’s occupational licensing system has drawn stiff critiques. It can stifle small entrepreneurs, delay workforce entry and drive up consumer costs. According to a report from the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, making it less burdensome could result in “significantly higher employment, better job matches, and improved customer satisfaction.”

Joining The Interstate Medical Compact 

SB 5221 would align Washington state with 18 others already in the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact. It lets doctors licensed in any member state get expedited licensing in the others. Last session, a similar bill cleared the Washington House, but stalled in Senate Rules.

Chief sponsor of SB 5221 is State Sen. Joe Fain (R-46). He is joined by co-sponsors including State Sens. Patty Kuderer (D-48), Steve Conway (D-29), Karen Keiser (D-33) and Curtis King (R-14). Companion bill HB 1337‘s sponsors include State Reps. Marcus Riccelli (D-3), Paul Harris (R-17), Eileen Cody (D-34) and Steve Tharinger (D-24).

Fain told the Senate Health Care Committee last week, “We want to make sure that, with the increasing population on our state and the fact that we aren’t yet producing enough trained physicians…we make it easier for physicians to be able to come to Washington, but we also make it easier for physicians to be able to practice in Washington through the use of telemedicine and some other emerging technologies.”

A Welcome Mat For Doctors

Micah Matthews, Deputy Executive Director of the Washington State Medical Commission, told the committee, “Since 2011, we’ve issued around 2,200 (physician) licenses per year…in calendar year 2016, we issued 3,200 licenses, that’s a 30 percent jump from 2011…we are clearly making an environment in Washington that is favorable for people to come and practice medicine. We would like to have you support the compact so we can make it even more favorable and get more people here.”

Under the guidelines of the Compact – which must be adopted word-for-word by participating states in their enabling legislation – only physicians without disciplinary actions taken against them, and not currently under investigation, would be able to apply for expedited licensing across state lines.

Katie Kolan, Director of Legislative and Regulatory Affairs for the Washington State Medical Association, said, “Those physicians who are applying to the compact have the cream of the crop license, they don’t have any sanctions…and we want to keep it that way…if a physician is behaving badly in another state…or has a blotch on their record from another state, the medical commission in this state is able to receive this information and, upon their choice, take appropriate action.”

More Portability For Other Licenses

Medicine is not the only profession at which licensing reforms are aimed. HJM 4001 would require the governors and legislative bodies of Washington, Oregon, and California to collaborate on license portability across a range of professions, on the West Coast.

On January 24, the measure by a unanimous vote cleared the House Business and Financial Services Committee and was sent to Rules. The prime sponsor is State Rep. David Sawyer (D-29), and it is co-sponsored by State Rep. Matt Manweller (R-13).

According to a White House report, 30.5 percent of Washington’s residents in 2015 were required to hold a state-issued credential to work. That’s third highest in the country, behind only Idaho and Nevada. For California and Oregon, the figures were 20.7 and 26.1 percent, respectively.

Testifying on HJM 4001, Sawyer told the committee, “We have the third highest rate of individuals who have skills, who are not able to start working immediately when they move here.”

Burden On Immigrants, Minorities

Sawyer added, “I often find that occupational licensing is a very big barrier for immigrants and communities of color. More often, it’s high fees to get training and it’s outside the scope of what’s important for the health and welfare of Washington state.” Involving California and Oregon would “make sure that our citizens can move more freely…and continue to work,” and conversely, that “someone who moves here…can immediately get into our workforce” to start earning wages and “make a better life here.”

Manweller has also filed HB 1361. It would require the state to withdraw licensing requirements for Washington residents working as auctioneers, landscape architects, and other professions. It would also create a website where consumers could review service-providers.

Removing ‘Barriers To Entry’

Bill Maurer, Managing Attorney for the Washington Office of the Institute for Justice, told Lens, “There’s a growing realization across both sides of the aisle that many occupational licenses are unnecessary and create barriers to entry, and they don’t give people the ability or opportunity to earn an honest living without unreasonable governmental restriction.”

Maurer continued, “Anything that opens up markets to competition and gives people the ability to move into new occupations is going to rebound to the benefit of the general public and to the state, which will have more people employed and paying taxes…it benefits the public by giving them more competition and lower prices.”

HB 1361 would come before the House Business and Financial Services Committee, but no public hearing date has been scheduled yet.

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