Facing a coronavirus, 50 states and the District of Columbia rolled out 51 different plans with 51 different justifications that they’re based in science. North Carolinians are under one of the most restrictive and could be one of the very last states to open back up.

Over four dozen subjective standards for “nonessential” businesses? Unfortunately, there’s a precedent for that. It follows from states having dozens of subjective standards for whether and which particular business practices should be licensed by the state and for what education standards, experience levels, tests, and costs in fees.

These differing standards are one of the reasons why a February 24 report from the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division (PED) showed that licensing is harmful to military veterans and military spouses when they come to North Carolina. But what the report makes clear is that our licensing process is harmful to workers from all kinds of backgrounds. Our process is difficult to navigate, the licensing doesn’t adequately account for experience or credentials, the licenses take too long to get, and families get stuck in licensing limbo losing income while the government loses tax revenue.

Two states have gotten around this problem. In 2019 Arizona passed, to great fanfare, universal license recognition. Earlier this month, Missouri passed the same reform.

A bill just introduced in the State Senate would make North Carolina the third.

Universal License Recognition

Senate Bill 773, introduced by Sens. Chuck Edwards (R-Buncombe), Andy Wells (R-Alexander), and Norman Sanderson (R-Catawba), would bring universal license recognition to North Carolina.

The bill would require an occupational licensing board to issue a license to someone who has moved into North Carolina and applied for the license in his or her field of work if that person, among other things:

  • has a current license in another state
  • has been licensed for at least a year
  • is in good standing
  • has met all licensing requirements in that state
  • is not under disciplinary action
  • doesn’t have a disqualifying criminal record
  • pays all licensing fees

The bill would not alter any preexisting reciprocity arrangements between licensing boards in this state and other states, nor would it make individuals licensed via universal license recognition entitled to licensure in other states under interstate licensing compacts. It would not change the licensing boards’ current licensing standards nor preclude licensees under universal license recognition from satisfying those standards.

The bill would help open North Carolina for return to service work in the post-COVID economy. Universal license recognition is one of the five reforms in the John Locke Foundation’s package of recommendations for streamlining occupational regulation to get North Carolinians back to work.

Let’s not forget that occupational licensing reform has long been a bipartisan issue. In recent years “red” and “blue” states alike have made significant licensing reforms. In fact, one of the strongest cases for reforming occupational licensing was made in a 2016 white paper by the Obama/Biden administration.

In the face of the coronavirus, one of the first responses in North Carolina and other states to prepare for the expected need for doctors and nurses was to waive licensure requirements for health care and behavioral health care professionals licensed in other states. After COVID-19, the state’s economy will need people to get back to work as soon as possible to speed recovery along. Universal license recognition served our medical needs then, and it should serve our economic needs going forward.

S.B. 773 would be a sensible change to help get North Carolina back to work. Four other licensing reforms — the Right to Earn a Living Act, the Occupational Licensing Consumer Choice Act, sunset with periodic review, and a least-cost-state standard — would open North Carolina for business and welcome workers in even more.

For more information and for good ideas adopted in other states, see: