California’s new licensing reform law is a step in the right direction, but state lawmakers should make it easier for workers of all backgrounds to move here – not just those who are the spouses of active service military.
Last month, Gov. Newsom signed AB 107 allowing active service military spouses to have their out-of-state licenses recognized in California. However, the law has two weaknesses: It only applies to a small group of workers, and it won’t go into effect for nearly two years.
Recognizing licenses for spouses of active service military members is a helpful policy reform. In the case of military families, spouses often lose the ability to practice their profession when the military moves them to a new base, as professional licenses do not transfer across state lines.
The limitation of AB 107 is that eligibility is restricted to active service military spouses. This limitation is in stark contrast to other states that have enacted universal licensing recognition reforms, like bordering Arizona. Military spouses are not the only workers who are hurt by interstate licensing barriers, and limiting eligibility limits the benefits from the reform.
In 2016, the Little Hoover Commission reported that occupational licensing requirements disproportionately affected four groups in California: Former offenders, military spouses, veterans, and foreign-trained workers. AB 107 only reforms the law for active service military spouses, leaving people with criminal records, veterans, and immigrants trained abroad behind.
California also loses out on the potential gains from this reform by delaying the law until 2023. For example, allowing out-of-state licensed professionals to begin practicing in California sooner rather than later would help relieve the ongoing labor shortage and stimulate new business growth.
California is currently the third most restrictive state in the country for occupational licensing, with up to 200,000 jobs lost every year. Licensing restrictions make it harder for people to attain well-paying jobs without years of training and burdensome school debt which research indicates does little to nothing to protect public health and safety. Letting people use the licenses they have already earned when they move to California would cut through such onerous restrictions without compromising consumer safety.
California has been making some progress reforming its licensing laws, a recent reduction in training requirements for barbers and cosmetologists is an important example. With barbers and cosmetologists licensed in every state, individuals who have already completed comparable licensing requirements should be eligible to use their licenses here, regardless of whether they are married to members of the military.
To date, 17 states have passed some form of universal licensing recognition, with more state legislation pending. Licensing barriers between states hurts worker mobility, and universal recognition overcomes some of these hurdles. With more states recognizing out-of-state licenses, California should avoid half-measure licensure reforms that make it harder for us to attract workers in an increasingly competitive labor market.
California’s licensing reciprocity reform is a patchwork solution to a systemic problem. Although spouses of the military are particularly vulnerable to losing their jobs when the military moves their families across states, they are far from the only workers who face such restrictions. Delaying the reform until July 2023 also delays the benefits we might see from it.
California should seize the moment to advance economic opportunity for everyone with licensing reform for all workers, and the sooner the better.
Darwyyn Deyo is a visiting scholar and Edward Timmons is director of the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at West Virginia University. Deyo is also an assistant professor of economics at San Jose State University. Timmons is also a senior research fellow with the Archbridge Institute.