The following is testimony delivered by Badger Institute Vice President Michael Jahr on strategies for reducing the occupational licensing backlog.
The testimony was submitted to members of Assembly Committee on Regulatory Licensing Reform on March 16, 2022.
Representative Sortwell and Members of the Committee:
We’ve been hearing for years about the challenges that Wisconsinites face when trying to secure an occupational license from the state: long delays, confusing requirements, lack of communication, burdensome requests.
Despite increased scrutiny and some legislative reforms, the backlog at the Department of Safety and Professional Services continues, producing troubling delays for numerous Wisconsin workers, including those in the health care field. As a result, many professionals are forced to put their professional practice – and income – on hold.
Others simply give up and move to states where the approval process is streamlined and responsive.
It need not be this way. There are legislative fixes – already adopted in other states with bipartisan support – that can expedite the process, eliminate red tape and establish processes for determining if these government permission slips to work are really needed.
It’s not surprising that the system is overwhelmed. The state currently requires 1 million Wisconsinites to secure these licenses – or other certifications – for 280 credential types. That’s one in five Wisconsin workers.
The human and economic toll of this backlog are real.
We’ve shared the story of Meggan Thompson, a clinical social worker who moved from Los Angeles to Wisconsin so her family could enjoy a better quality of life. Thompson had practiced as a clinical social worker for 12 years in California, worked with high-risk patients and even taught online social work courses at USC.
But her licensing application in Wisconsin dragged on for more than a year, denying her the ability to practice her profession and earn a paycheck. It also deprived Wisconsinites struggling with suicide, addiction or trauma of the help she could have provided.
The Thompsons are exactly the type of people we should want to attract to Wisconsin.
Please, leave California, New York, Illinois. Please, come to Wisconsin. Bring your family. Enjoy a better quality of life. Flourish in your profession.
But when professionals do move to Wisconsin, more often than not it all comes to a screeching halt. They try to comprehend and navigate the DSPS website. They work to gather the proper
documentation. They file their applications, hoping the paperwork gets to the right person. They follow up with emails and phone calls often without a response. People describe feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, hopeless.
The experience is the same for those already here in Wisconsin. Heather Smith, the lead psychologist at the Milwaukee VA and an associate professor of psychiatry and clinical medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, described to us the experience of post-doctoral fellows seeking certification in Wisconsin.
She points out that unlike other states, Wisconsin does not allow for provisional licensing of post-doctoral applicants. So, she says, post-doctoral fellows submit their applications and wait. And wait. And wait – often without hearing a word. As a result, many post-doctoral trainees leave Wisconsin for paid positions out-of-state. Talk about contributing to the brain drain.
The reason we need occupation licensing, we are told, is to protect public health and safety. So, it’s ironic and tragic that the system often produces the opposite effect, delaying the ability of qualified Wisconsinites to enter health care fields and the rest of us from gaining access to quality physical and mental health care.
Wisconsin is behind the curve. Since 2019, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming have adopted some form of universal licensing reciprocity that makes it easier for licensed professionals who move to the state to easily secure a license and begin to practice their profession.
Sen. Andre Jacques and Rep. David Murphy have introduced a universal recognition measure, SB 469, that would recognize out-of-state occupational licenses for people who:
· Have been licensed in their profession for at least one year
· Are in good standing in all states where they are licensed
· Do not have any past or pending investigations, complaints or license revocations
· Establish residency in Wisconsin
· Pay applicable fees, and
· Meet testing and background check requirements per law.
Another measure that would allow DSPS and boards to get people to work more quickly is for provisional licenses to be issued to qualified applicants while their permanent license is processed and approved. A provisional licensing bill passed the Senate this session but did not advance in the Assembly.
In 2015, President Barack Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers issued a white paper highlighting the costs and burdens of occupational licensing in the United States. The report cited the “substantial costs” that “raise the price of goods and services, restrict employment opportunities, and make it more difficult for workers to take their skills across state lines.”
Given these substantial costs, we encourage you to do all you can to minimize and expedite the credentialing process here in Wisconsin