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U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said during a speech last month that licensure reciprocity laws will be a consideration for future base closures. 

U.S. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the presence of state laws on reciprocity of professional licenses for military families would now be a consideration when evaluating future basing and mission decisions in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The statement — in a keynote address to the Western Governors Association meeting in Rapid City last month — came four months after Wilson, Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer and Secretary of the Army Mark Esper sent a letter to the National Governors Association in February encouraging states to consider licensure reciprocity legislation while noting that the quality of local schools near a base would also be a new factor considered in future basing and mission decisions.

Dated Feb. 23, the letter was signed just three days after the South Dakota House of Representatives rejected an interstate compact bill, House Bill 1319, that would have allowed individuals who had been licensed in any profession or occupation in one participating state to receive, upon request within 30 days, a temporary license from another state participating in the compact. For civilians, the temporary license would have lasted 18 months. For military spouses, it would last two years. The intent was to provide enough time for individuals to fulfill the new state’s licensing requirements without having to forgo work in the meantime.

But opposition ultimately stalled the effort, with professional associations lobbying to maintain control over their licensing processes. Concerns about the different standards for licenses/certifications across states and the vetting process to prevent possible abuses — say, a disgraced or troublesome dentist in North Dakota looking to escape disciplinary action by relocating to a new state — also led to the bill’s defeat. North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado were the other states that would have potentially participated in the compact.

In January, a month before the military secretaries’ letter, Gov. Dennis Daugaard and U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal  decrying “the problem of excessive occupational licensing.” In 1950, only one in 20 jobs required an occupational license, the editorial noted. Now, more than one in four Americans need a license to work. Aside from creating a costly barrier to entry, the editorial noted the difficultly licensure created for job mobility, especially among military spouses.

Their solution was the Compact for the Temporary Licensure of Professionals, which was incorporated into House Bill 1319, presented to the South Dakota Legislature, and then roundly defeated on Feb. 20, with 46 of 64 votes cast in opposition.

For now, the future of licensure reciprocity legislation in South Dakota is unclear. But after Wilson’s reiteration of the new considerations, it seems likely another attempt at the compact, or some other form of licensing reciprocity legislation, may be pursued in next year’s legislative session. Currently, the only South Dakota law dealing with military spouses' licensure is South Dakota Codified Law 36-1B-1, which provides an expedited process for the issuance of licenses, certificates, registrations, or permits to the spouse of a military member who was transferred to South Dakota, holds the same or similar license in another state, and who left employment to accompany their spouse to the new base.

Lynn Kendall, a state lobbyist, vice president of the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce, and head of the chamber’s military affairs committee, said the issue “hasn’t gotten very much ground state to state” but said “something has got to give eventually” in way of legislation. Kendall also noted that perhaps legislation wasn’t the best way to address the problem. Regardless, though, she said getting different licensing agencies to the discussion table was a prerequisite to any progress, legislative or not.

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“The bigger picture is employment for our military spouses,” she said of the overarching goal. “We have a very low unemployment rate, and if we have a percentage of our workforce that we’re not utilizing because of regulations, that seems like a very lost opportunity to me.” Kendall also noted the economic impact Ellsworth Air Force base has on Rapid City and South Dakota as a potential motivating factor to getting something done.

If legislation is the best way to address the military’s concerns and an overabundance of occupational licenses — more than 1,100 different occupations require a license in at least one state, according to an op-ed in the D.C.-based political newspaper The Hill — Daugaard’s proposal for an inter-state compact is far from the only option. In fact, some argue that creating a compact to make licenses more mobile will only exacerbate the problem and cause states with lower requirements to raise them to meet the requirements of stricter states, increasing the barriers of entry for potential workers. In short, it will make it easier to move with a license but do nothing to stem the proliferation of unnecessary licenses.

“While many licenses are to ensure safety, these requirements are often for jobs no more risky than braiding hair, dog-watching, or flower arranging,” said U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) in a July 2017 release announcing an occupational licensing reform bill presented to Congress last year. The bill never moved past the subcommittee level.

Arizona, Tennessee and Mississippi have all passed laws in the past two years to curb the increase of occupational licenses, including an across-the-board review of licensing requirements — and the justification for them — and implementing state oversight of licensing boards. Such reforms come after a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision, North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. FTC, in which the court ruled that state licensing boards composed of participants in the associated market may be subject to antitrust liability unless states exercise “active supervision” over the board.

Contact Samuel Blackstone at samuel.blackstone@rapidcityjournal.com and follow him on Twitter or Facebook @SDBlackstone.

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City Reporter

City reporter for the Rapid City Journal.