Government

Advocates cheer changes to Iowa's occupational licensing system

Goal is to make it easier to get, keep professional licenses

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs into law House File 2627, which changes the state's professional licensing requirements, du
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signs into law House File 2627, which changes the state's professional licensing requirements, during a Thursday, June 25, 2020, ceremony at the Associated Builders and Contractors of Iowa in Grimes. (Erin Murphy/Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau)

DES MOINES — Iowans working in a range of trades and professions — especially new arrivals from other states — should face a streamlined occupational licensing system with fewer obstacles under legislative changes signed into law last week by Gov. Kim Reynolds.

Lawmakers worked for more than a year to make modifications to certain laws, specifications and requirements to make it easier for Iowans to get and keep professional licenses. That effort culminated this month in the passage of House File 2627.

Backers say the changes — scheduled to take effect Jan. 1 — will reduce barriers for electricians, cosmetologists, plumbers, barbers and people in dozens of other trades entering Iowa’s workforce. They will create universal licensure and job-experience recognition, establish uniform licensing consideration for people with criminal convictions seeking a second chance and waive licensing fees and background checks for first-time applicants with household income of less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Opponents said the one-size-fits-all approach will open the door to undertrained people licensed under less stringent standards in other states to do shoddy work that will cost consumers and, in some cases, risk their safety.

Reynolds got the reform ball rolling last January in her Condition of the State speech. She called on legislators to make changes that would ensure government isn’t stifling the ingenuity of Iowans and putting the state at a competitive disadvantage with its professional licensure system — a system that has 104 licensed job types, according to Iowa Workforce Development. Reynolds, an Osceola Republican, noted that Iowa required about one-fourth of its workforce to have some kind of professional licensure — which is nation’s second-highest.

“We should never dismiss the importance of protecting the health and safety of the people, but it’s been far too long since we’ve modernized our licensing structure,” the governor said in urging legislators to adopt universal licensing recognition and waive fees for low-income people,

HF 2627 requires that specified professional licensing boards issue licenses to applicants who already have out-of-state licenses if the applicants have established Iowa residency and met specified conditions.

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The bill provides universal recognition for those who are licensed or have work experience in other states and fee waivers for those below a certain income level. Professional licensing boards that are specified in the bill are required to extend their license expiration dates to June 30, 2021.

Another provision of HF 2627 creates a uniform standard for considering a qualified and skilled applicant with a criminal record if the violation is unrelated to the profession the ex-offender seeks to enter.

A board still may deny an application for a license if there is a risk to public safety because the prior offense is directly related to the profession. But the measure includes a petition process for a potential applicant to the ask the board whether the licensed will be denied based on the criminal conviction.

Business groups and other supporters say the reforms allow people who have been licensed in other states to have their license recognized in Iowa once they have moved here and have completed the minimal work, education and clinical requirements. They also must pass any examination required and have not had their license revoked.

Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, said the bill recognizes work and job experiences — “what I call the school of hard knocks” — without getting rid of safeguards in allowing professionals to work in Iowa at a time when the state faces shortages in many areas.

Opponents said improvements were made to the bill in the legislative process to remove some “very troublesome” provisions. That moves some groups that initially were against the changes into the neutral column by the time the bill was approved and sent to the governor earlier this month.

Critics argued the measure, however, lacks reciprocity agreements with other states that have different licensing standards than Iowa, and applied a “broad brush” to requirements that should be tailored to professions on a case-by-case basis.

“I see a lot of problems with this,” said Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, “and I hope it doesn’t come back to bite us.”

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In its latest study, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian not-for-profit based in Arlington, Va., ranked Iowa low on the nation’s list of most burdensome licensing laws, at 37th, with averages of $178 in fees, 288 days spent on training and around one exam.

But the Hawkeye State is further up the institute’s list of “most broadly and onerously” licensed states, at 12th. Iowa mandates licenses for 71 of the 102 lower-income occupations that the institute studies.

In her January speech, Reynolds also had called for the creation of a commission that would — every four years — review every professional license requirement and the boards that oversee them. However, that provision was not included in HF 2627.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

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