If the Covid-19 pandemic has shown us one thing, it’s that universal license recognition is vitally important to our country’s economic recovery. Pro-business groups are urging Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine and the state’s legislators to enact such a policy in the Buckeye State. Like all other states, Ohio has enacted temporary license reforms recognizing desperately needed out-of-state doctors and nurses at the start of the pandemic.
While Ohio was in lockstep with other states in temporarily waiving restrictions during the pandemic, they could be a first-mover in universal licensing recognition. Currently, only Arizona, Iowa, and Missouri have passed full universal licensing recognition laws.
Occupational licensing is typically propped up in the guise of consumer safety. Arguments are put forth that licensing is necessary in certain occupations to protect the public from related dangers. Gathering data from multiple sources, a research study found that in only 16% of studies licensure had a positive effect on quality. Thus, the very basis for the argument for increased regulation seems to have a shaky foundation at best.
Not only does stringent occupational regulation seem to fail in its mission, it also constrains those groups most affected by the pandemic’s economic reckoning: immigrants with work authorization, people with criminal records, people of low-income, unemployed and dislocated workers, veterans, and military spouses.
The industry most affected by the pandemic have been leisure & hospitality—more than 8 million workers lost their job between February and April. With the country’s largest surge in cases to date over the holidays, it can be anticipated that the slim recovery this industry experienced will be wiped out. There are a significant number of low-income individuals, as well as small business owners represented in this industry.
Although Wall Street may have recovered from its initial fall in the spring, Main Street is still hurting, especially the industries mentioned above. Meanwhile, restrictive licensing laws are hindering the economic recovery instead of helping to protect consumers. Ohio has the 20th most burdensome licensing laws in the country.
The lack of universal recognition laws obstructs the mobility of workers but can they be justified? To paraphrase Arizona’s governor: an electrician does not forget how to be an electrician in the time it takes to drive from Erie to Cleveland. Differences in regulations exist from state to state, but the basic concepts remain constant regardless of the state.
Universal recognition has been supported by both sides of the aisle. As noted above, Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed the first universal license recognition law in the state of Arizona. Democratic Governor Tom Wolf signed a bill into law in Pennsylvania with some of the same elements.
It is easy to see why both Democrats and Republicans support occupational license reform. The reform lessens regulations that many Republicans feel are too restrictive on the market. It also helps limit the hoops immigrants have to jump through, a strong talking point of the Democratic party. With partisanship on the rise, especially federally, universal recognition looks to be an easy way to find bipartisan commitment.
It is also important to mention the intense amount of pressure states are under right now to help their citizens. The federal government enact national legislation to aid states and citizens during the recession, but some argue that the legislation did not go far enough. This dilemma is forcing states to take the lead on many initiatives to help their citizens economically.
Ohio could be a leader for its citizens and for the country by enacting a law for universal recognition. This common sense reform would encourage out-of-state professionals to move to Ohio and continue their profession, ultimately creating jobs and help Ohioans get back to work. The pandemic has shown us many negative things, but the negative realities provide us with opportunities to correct them. Universal recognition allows Ohio to help its citizens economically recover, but also to show that bipartisan lawmaking still exists in a divided world.
Randee McGee is a senior at Saint Francis University and a research fellow for the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation.