HB 1592: to reduce occupational licensing barriers for military spouses in Washington state
1. Military spouses who move to Washington state face barriers to getting a job because of needlessly strict licensing rules.
2. President Biden recently highlighted this problem, noting license rules “lock some people out of jobs, and make it harder for people to move between states.”
3. Washington state HB 1592 would require state agencies to approve work licenses for military spouses within 30 days.
4. However, the bill does not count training and work experience gained in other states.
5. HB 1592 is a good start to helping military spouses find work in Washington and should be a catalyst for additional improvements.
6. Legislators should follow California, Colorado and other states and allow temporary work for one year until a Washington-based license is approved.
In 2021, President Biden signed the “Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” which included a call to reduce the barriers that excessive occupational licensing restrictions create for military spouses who are transferred to a base in another state. The order notes that the inconsistency of the barriers from state to state “locks some people out of jobs, and makes it harder for people to move between states— particularly burdening military spouses, 34% of whom work in a field requiring a license and are subject to military-directed moves every few years.”
That problem is particularly acute in Washington state. Washington state has some of the most restrictive licensing laws in the country, requiring occupational licenses for more jobs than any other state except Louisiana.2 Additionally, as other states have reduced barriers-to-work for military spouses, Washington has lagged behind.
The U.S. Department of Labor notes that, “In recent years, most states have passed laws creating less burdensome license recognition options for military spouses.” Spouses moving to Washington state, however, still face significant problems in receiving work licenses, even if they have professional experience and are fully licensed in another state.
The proposed Washington state “Military Spouse Employment Act” (HB 1592) would reduce those barriers by guaranteeing that spouses receive their license in a timely fashion after completing the requirements to be licensed. Although this is a welcome step, it falls far short of what is necessary to live up to the promise of President Biden’s executive order and is far behind what other states like California have done recently.
While a good first step, legislators should build on HB 1592 to allow spouses to come to Washington to use their skills during a transition period or to openly recognize licenses from other states.