Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania on Tuesday signed HB 1172, a bill that will allow the use of out-of-state occupational licenses in Pennsylvania. Wolf said the “new law will reduce barriers for new Pennsylvanians to work here and shows this is a land of opportunity.” It passed as a bipartisan effort: cosponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, it received strong support across the aisle, clearing both Republican-controlled chambers. It was then approved by Wolf, a Democrat.
Along with Montana and Arizona, Pennsylvania is among the first states in the nation to take such decisive action toward occupational licensing reform, which involves simplifying the processes required to gain a license to practice certain occupations. They are long overdue:occupational licensing has long been a barrier to gainful employment for many Americans. Per the governor’s office, one in five Pennsylvanians must acquire a license from the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs before being able to practice their occupations. Often, acquiring these licenses is extremely time-consuming and expensive. In Pennsylvania, for instance, it costs more to gain a license to practice five occupations than it does in any other state. Yet studies on various difference jobs requiring a license have shown that those with licenses rarely provide higher quality services.
This new law will ensure that those who have already spent their money and time on acquiring out-of-state licenses will not need to repeat the arduous process if they wish to move to Pennsylvania. The number of workers this will affect is not insignificant: studies indicate that people who require licenses to work are 36 percent less likely to move to another state. These individuals lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in higher wages annually.
Though the law makes some good progress, still more can be done in the way of reform. For instance, complex occupational licensing regulations in Pennsylvania are a heavy burden on ex-convicts. Time and again, studies have shown that employment is a deterrent to recidivism. Yet Pennsylvania’s complex regulations mean that the state can revoke licenses for no reason other than criminal history, regardless of whether they have completed the necessary training or not. There are currently bipartisan bills in Pennsylvania’s House and Senate aimed at resolving this issue.
Further, while Arizona, Montana, and Pennsylvania are the first to recognize interstate licenses, other states are also making reforms to their often draconian licensing systems. In Colorado, for instance, Gov. Jared Polis, who calls himself a libertarian Democrat, has taken steps to remove licensing requirements for the managers of Homeowners’ Associations across the state. In Michigan, bills are being considered that would impose stringent transparency conditions on licensing boards as well as improve the licensing situation for ex-convicts.
It is plain to see that occupation licensing reform is rapidly turning into a bipartisan movement across the country. The Trump administration has aired its support for the concept across the board and has met with various governors who are open to reform. Pennsylvania’s new law, while not perfect, sets a good precedent for other states.