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All 50 states have eased some licensing restrictions during pandemic to fill workforce needs



A four-year project to reverse the growth of occupational licensing requirements, backed with significant federal funding, issued a 2020 report indicating that strategy and planning are helping deregulation happen—but so is the happenstance of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Summarizing progress since 2017, the Occupational Licensing: Assessing State Policies and Practice project pointed to significant achievement on priority goals, including 80 bills enacted in 30 states to change the ability of people with criminal records to obtain licenses.

The pandemic, however, sped the deregulatory agenda by bringing sudden widespread consensus on the need for flexible workforce policies, particularly in health care and emergency response occupations. All 50 states, aiming for this flexibility, eased some restrictions from their current licensing laws in 2020 through emergency legislation or executive order, says the report, issued by the National Conference of StateLegislatures (NCSL) and other co-sponsors of the project.

The report, Assessing State Policies and Practices, evaluates progress of the Multi-State Occupational Licensing Learning Consortium, which consists of 11 states that participated in the initiative to produce useful data and tools and encourage polices that will reduce barriers to work and increase portability of licenses across state lines.

Joint sponsors of the project—with funding supplied by the U.S. Department of Labor Education and Training Administration—were NCSL, the Council of State Governments, and the National Governors Association.

The states included in the consortium—Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Utah—traded ideas and shared their progress on the deregulatory initiative, which emphasizes the positive impact of fewer licensing regulations upon veterans and their spouses, people with a criminal record, foreign-trained workers, and low-income and dislocated workers.

A major component of the project was development of the searchable National Occupational Licensing Database (NOLD) launched in 2018 (

The NOLD database includes the education, training, exam, and fee requirements for 34 occupations in 50 states and the District of Columbia. Occupations chosen for inclusion meet four criteria: they are licensed in at least 30 states; their educational entry requirement is less than a bachelor’s degree in most states; their employment growth rate is at least as high as the national average; and the occupation employs at least 10,000 individuals.

Consortium members appeared to have more success than did non-Consortium members with their legislative efforts. Although non-Consortium member states introduced more bills than Consortium states, Consortium states succeeded in enacting 60% of their bills compared to 42% in the other states. “These statistics indicate that Consortium states are bringing together the right stakeholders to have meaningful conversations about licensing legislation,” the report comments.

The volume of occupational licensing bills over the four-year span of the consortium project has been significant. NCSL followed bills on 16 topic areas and 34 occupations. From 2017 through 2019, the topic receiving most attention was altered fees or requirements, with 122 bills enacted. A total of 281 bills to increase and 166 to decrease were introduced. Bills to clarify requirements and increase transparency were also popular.

Laws expanding interstate compacts, under which states agree, usually occupation by occupation, to recognize each other’s licenses, have spread as well, according to the Council of State Governments. The Council has tracked 42