Universal occupational licensing far off, lawmakers say

By: - September 14, 2023 6:30 am

Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, leads an interim committee focused on licensing rules for dozens of occupations, on Wednesday Sept. 13, 2023. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

More than a dozen U.S. states have passed laws recognizing occupational licenses issued by other states — but Indiana won’t be joining them anytime soon.

In its first meeting Wednesday, a committee charged with considering the idea heard calls for an exhaustive analysis of the impacts on the dozens of industries whose licensing the state regulates. And members of several industries asked to be left out of any universal licensure recognition efforts.

Committee chair Sen. Linda Rogers, R-Granger, said she would “probably not” pursue such a proposal “in the near future,” though she didn’t rule it out in the long-term.

Boosting worker mobility

Indiana uses interstate compacts to allow licensed professionals more mobility — each customized to a specific profession and applicable to particular states.

Indiana Public Licensing Agency (PLA) Director of Legislative Affairs and Communications Doug Boyle testifies before an interim committee on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

There are four active agreements for doctors, nurses, physical therapists and psychologists, according to data compiled by the Indiana Professional Licensing Agency. Implementation of another three agreements, authorized in 2022 and 2023, is pending.

Universal licensing proponents say it makes it easier for licensed professionals to work elsewhere, without having to re-do strict requirements for a different state’s license, and without having to navigate a web of reciprocity options.

The concept has generated industry pushback. But for states facing worker shortages, like Indiana, it holds tantalizing potential.

Professional Licensing Agency Spokesman Doug Boyle told lawmakers that Indiana professions are happy with the requirements on the books but he understands the desire for a deep dive.

“It’s something the PLA is happy to try and engage in, but not something we see as absolutely necessary at this point,” he said.

Reviewing ramifications

The agency licenses 40 professions with more than 200 license types — and lawmakers Wednesday wanted to know the effects of universal licensing on each.

“Every single industry is so different,” said Sen. Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis. She pushed for a “line by line” analysis of all professions and license types.

Boyle said PLA hasn’t yet looked at the topic in depth, and that a comprehensive study would be a “huge” undertaking.

Twenty states have adopted some form of universal licensing recognition, largely in the last five years, but in different forms.

Twelve states restrict license recognition to people whose home state license has “substantially equivalent” requirements, according to the Virginia-based Institute for Justice. In another eight, the home state license must only apply to a “similar” scope of practice. Five states, however, limit recognition to license-holders who have become residents.

“Most of the laws in the other states have been in the last like, two to three years,” Rogers acknowledged in comments to the Capital Chronicle. “And so that’s not enough time to really even know how well they’re working (or) what maybe should be changed.”

Not me, please

Several industries spoke Wednesday to ask for exemptions to any proposals.

Their reasoning ran the gamut, from existing processes and local control to an influx of professionals and safety concerns.

“We certainly understand the public policy goals behind the concept,” said Brian Staresnick, representing the Indiana Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. “… However, we caution the Indiana General Assembly from adopting an overly broad reform model.”

Staresnick said Hoosier landscape architects, whose licenses PLA regulates, already have a “time-tested” process enshrined in Indiana code. And he said the national Council of Landscape Architecture Registration Boards already assists professionals seeking licensure in multiple states.

“It is important that there’s local control and oversight of our profession in Indiana,” Staresnick said. “Were something to go wrong, or (if) an individual were to deceive the public, it’s important that Indiana maintain its authority to intervene when necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public.”

Indiana Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects representative Brian Staresnick testifies before an interim committee on Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2023. (Leslie Bonilla Muñiz/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The Indiana Association of Realtors’ Maggie McShane also advocated to be left out, arguing that the organization’s membership has hit a record high and that there’s no industry shortage to fix.

“We don’t think that the same thought process fits really easily into our license category,” McShane said. “I hate to say we think we’re a little bit different. It sounds kind of like a cop-out.”

McShane also pushed for Indiana to reconsider a totally universal model, which recognizes a license regardless of if a professional’s home state offers reciprocity for Hoosier professionals.

Real estate markets often cross state borders, she said, so not requiring reciprocity could disadvantage Indiana businesses.

Sen. David Niezgodski, D-South Bend, also chimed in.

He’s a plumber by trade, and emphasized the hundreds of hours classroom instruction and thousands of hours of on-the-job training Hoosier plumbers must complete.

“I would want to be very, very careful,” Niezgodski said, before saying he personally did not support universal licensing recognition.

Rogers said she wants to make sure any move is not taking the state backward.

“Certainly, we need workers here in Indiana, but we have to ensure that they’re doing quality work and have the proper training,” she said.

When Rogers asked if any of the committee members had heard from industries that did want universal licensing, she was met with silence — and replied, “I have not either.”

Rogers later told the Capital Chronicle that she doesn’t yet have a timeline in mind for the in-depth study.

A recently authorized compact she worked on for speech pathologists took three years to pass.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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