Wolf Making Progress on Goal to Reduce Barriers to Employment in PA

(Tom Wolf is raising the roof...on licensing rules that make it harder to find work in Pennsylvania)

Nearly 25% of all U.S. workers now need a license from the state to do their job, thanks to a growing tangle of state-level employment laws known as occupational licensing.

Pennsylvania has 29 boards and commissions that license 255 different occupations, representing over one million workers, or 1 in 5. 

Economists and experts have been sounding the alarm about this trend for several years now, pointing out how the often-conflicting state requirements make it increasingly difficult for people to find work in a new state, and how the high degree of variation between state job training requirements suggests the proliferation of these laws may be driven more by regulatory capture than more innocent concerns over health, safety, and quality control. 

Because the main action happens at the state level, and tends to be the business of various obscure committees and licensing boards, the process is fairly invisible to the public, except on a few occasions when it spills out into the open. Sometimes when the stakes are especially high, affected groups will run public relations campaigns around particular licensing fights, like the great Optometrists vs. Opthalmologists battle of 2012, or the ongoing nurse practictioners vs. doctors skirmishing, where nurse practitioners are lobbying for expanded scope of practice rules that would cut into doctors' bottom lines, but create some cheaper primary care options for patients. Most licensing bills don't get this kind of attention though, which is how this has quietly snowballed into one of the most important economic policy issues facing states.

Despite these warnings, most states have continued on autopilot, expanding licensing requirements to more professions, but in Pennsylvania, there's more of a concerted effort to reverse course. Governor Tom Wolf has called on the General Assembly to take action on several fronts related to this, and even called for the repeal of 13 different licenses currently required by law:

  • Auctioneers, only require registration and bonding.
  • Barbers, only require certification from a licensed barber school, passage of examination, minimum hours of training, and registration with the State Board of Barber Examiners.
  • Cemetery Broker/Cemetery Salesperson, only require passage of relevant examination, 60 hours of instruction and registration.
  • Campground Membership Salesperson, only require registration with the State Real Estate Commission.
  • Natural Hair Braiding License, eliminate this license.
  • Orthotic fitter/Orthotist/Pedorthist/Prosthetist, only require credentialing, passage of an education program, training, and minimum hours of training.
  • Practitioner of Oriental Medicine, maintain existing, but separate acupuncturist licensing requirement to protect public health and safety.
  • Rental Listing Referral Agent, only require registration with the State Real Estate Commission.
  • Vehicle Factory Representative, only require registration with the State Board of Vehicle Manufacturers, Dealers, and Salespersons.

Wolf also called on the legislature to ease relocation for military spouses, pass "Second Chance" legislation to reduce employment barriers like the 10-year ban on licensing for anyone convicted of a drug-related felony, and rebalancing continuing education and training requirements to the levels provided for in state law.

This week, the Governor and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers made headway on one of those areas with H.B 1172, which makes it easier for people to work in Pennsylvania with licenses from other states, by giving Pennsylvania boards the leeway to recognize those licenses as valid for working here if the requirements are similar enough to ours. Wolf's announcement heavily promotes the benefits this would have for military spouses to find work, who are probably the most politically-sympathetic group to benefit, but the change would benefit more than just military families, who may move states more frequently than is typical.

Here's how Wolf's announcement describes the changes:

"The bill provides for licensure by endorsement from the boards and commissions under the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs in the Department of State. The license could be issued on an individual basis if the licensure requirements in the other state, territory or country are determined to be substantially similar to Pennsylvania’s requirements. The boards also have the authority to grant a provisional endorsement license while an applicant completes requirements specific to Pennsylvania, such as the required child-abuse training.

Prior to the reform, many professionals licensed out-of-state had to complete Pennsylvania’s entire licensing process. The time-consuming delays caused military spouses and other workers moving to Pennsylvania to lose income and career opportunities, and reduced the pool of talented workers for businesses.

“I will continue working with the General Assembly to remove barriers to work for qualified Pennsylvanians and to ensure that we are welcoming to new Pennsylvanians wishing to practice their licensed profession,” said Gov. Wolf."

This still won't do anything for in-state residents working in trades or professions that may have excessive requirements for obtaining a license to work, but it's a great early win that puts this issue on the map for Governor Wolf's second term, and makes a real material difference in the lives of people who want to work in Pennsylvania.

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