Lawmakers, leaders join forces on licensing reform

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Athletic trainers, midwives, barbers, travel guides, milk samplers and emergency medical technicians are on the list of 34 occupations requiring licenses in Colorado, but every state has a different list of licensed occupations and different requirements for them.

These disparities often create headaches for workers who want to move to a new state and continue working in the same field. The hurdles and expense can prevent them from joining the workforce quickly — or sometimes at all.

To boost the state’s skilled workforce and ease mobility, Colorado lawmakers and business leaders want to review occupational licensing requirements and streamline reciprocity among states.

Sometimes licensing difficulties first come to light — as they did for Rep. Terri Carver — when military spouses talk about the challenges of transferring their qualifications to a new state.

“A number of military spouses approached me and talked about how Colorado was a particularly difficult state in which to teach with an out-of-state license, because Colorado had this very restrictive rule that you could only get reciprocity if you taught three continuous years in one prior location,” Carver said. “Many of the military spouses had taught at their previous location, but because they moved every two years they could not meet the three years at one prior location. So I said, ‘I can fix that.’”

Carver sponsored House Bill 18-1095, which exempts military spouses who are educators from the state reciprocity requirement to have three consecutive years of teaching in a single prior location, with Rep. Jeni Arndt, Sen. Nancy Todd and Sen. Bob Gardner.

“We were able to get the bill through with pretty close to unanimous support,” Carver said, adding it prompted her to look at the ramifications of licensing requirements and reciprocity beyond the military community.

“I really regard the military family as just one category with some special circumstances because they move so often, but I think it’s an issue across the board,” she said. “When you have unnecessarily restrictive occupational licensing, that is a barrier to work for the entire population. … I think there’s a lot more we need to do in Colorado for workforce development and reducing barriers to work.”

Carver said easing licensing bottlenecks and allowing qualified workers to participate in Colorado’s labor market is a win/win for the state’s economy.

She said Colorado has joined a consortium of states in the National Conference of State Legislatures and, led by the state’s Department of Regulatory Agencies, is working to streamline licensure processes, expand reciprocity and standardize licensing criteria.

With Sen. Don Coram, Carver sponsored another licensure bill this past session that aimed to “prohibit state agencies from imposing a personal qualification requirement in order to engage in a profession or occupation unless the agency can show that the requirement is demonstrably necessary and narrowly tailored to address a specific, legitimate public health, safety, or welfare objective.”

Senate Bill 18-193, Limit State Agency Occupational Regulations, didn’t pass.

“I think because it was so broad, I think there was hesitancy to go that broad,” Carver said. “I regarded this bill as opening the conversation… . To those that hesitated, whose comfort level wasn’t quite there, I committed to that conversation and finding a way forward where we could do this,” she added. “I think it is an area where we should be able to come together and find some common ground to make improvements.”

Rich Burchfield, chief defense development officer for the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, said state lawmakers and chambers of commerce across Colorado are “peaking together” in recognizing the real need for licensing reciprocity, as well as the need to work together to achieve it.

Burchfield pointed to House Bill 18-1095 and the adoption of the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact under Senate Bill 18-027 as great successes, and examples of “the right organizations at the grassroots level working with our electeds” to improve licensure.

He said the Chamber & EDC has strong partnerships with the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation and Pueblo Chamber of Commerce — and they’re ready to contribute to future reciprocity efforts.

“We want to work closely with our electeds — as we are — to see what’s possible for this next legislative session,” he said. “What do we need to do, from the local community perspective … to start finding the details of those other professions?

“Rep. Carver has said there are so many more [areas of licensing reciprocity to be addressed], so let’s use this off season to start peeling that back,” Burchfield said. “We’re all in agreement throughout the state, realizing there’s a lot. … It’s going to be a slow peel-back of what’s in the realm of doable in the short term, and whether there are other professions that are going to require more in-depth analysis — and then coming up with those compacts, so that reciprocity can happen with folks moving back and forth.   

“I think that grassroots analysis [by local chambers] helps the larger rollout for the state to tackle that,” he added.

Reciprocity is “big for us here in the Springs,” Burchfield noted, because of the need for military spouses to transfer qualifications from other states.

“But no doubt about it, from a corporate America perspective there’s easily as much moving, and in some cases more so,” he said. “[We have] a focus from a military family perspective, but I can imagine there are many corporate America families that would say, ‘Heck, we’re going through the same thing.’ So everyone’s going to benefit from this, for sure.”