The ability to earn a living for Iowans and those who relocate to the Hawkeye state will be greatly improved due to the historic occupational licensing reform passed by the Legislature. Gov. Kim Reynolds, who made occupational licensing reform a priority in her Condition of the State address, is expected to sign the legislation. The reform will allow for universal recognition of out-of-state licenses, waives licensing fees for low income individuals, and establishes a standard for a fairer review process if a license is denied based on past criminal convictions. Reforming occupational licensing expands liberty and makes Iowa a more competitive state.
Iowa policymakers and businesses agree, the state needs skilled workers. Iowa is in constant competition with other states for those workers. By reducing onerous occupational licensing regulations, it will not only expand economic opportunities for those here, but also attract new workers into our state. It also will provide opportunities to enter the workforce for those who might currently be ineligible because of past criminal convictions.
A fundamental provision of the occupational licensing reform law is universal recognition of out-of-state licenses. Individuals who now relocate to Iowa and are in good standing in terms of their licensure will now be recognized without going through the licensing process again. Arizona became the first state to pass universal recognition for licensing and numerous individuals have benefited as they relocated into the state.
Universal recognition is a common-sense reform, which was recently demonstrated with the coronavirus (COVID-19) emergency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the regulations lifted by Gov. Reynolds allowed those in the medical profession, who were in good standing with their license, to be able to practice in Iowa and provide critical medical care. This should be universal for other professional and skilled license holders who are in good standing. It only makes sense as Iowa is attempting to attract more skilled workers.
Lower income Iowans will be empowered by this law. With Iowa being one of the most regulated states for occupational licensing requirements, the financial burden often falls heavily on lower income individuals. Now, Iowans whose household income is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, the initial license application and background check fees will be waived.
Finally, this law creates a more standard and fair review process for those individuals with a criminal past who wish to obtain a license. Individuals with a criminal past who are trying to become productive citizens, do not currently have a criminal record, and are trying to earn a living should be allowed a “second chance” and not be disqualified from work.
Gov. Reynolds argues that the significance of occupational licensing reform will “ensure every Iowan, regardless of their background or circumstance, has an opportunity to find success.” This is the objective of occupational licensing reform. Critics of this law will argue that it may harm public safety by creating a “free-for-all,” but this is far from the truth. Iowa’s licensing structure and boards remain, but it removes the regulatory roadblocks that impede work and the ability to earn a living.
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The goal of legislation should always be to advance rather than restrict freedom and Iowa’s occupational licensing reform law advances both freedom and opportunity. The right to earn a living is paramount and this law will benefit all Iowans. This reform tells the nation that Iowa is “open for business.”
Walt Rogers is deputy director of TEF Iowa, a public policy think tank, and a former state representative from Cedar Falls.