Personal Freedom

Occupational Licensure Streamlined in Utah for Thousands

Across the country, state governments require permissions slips for many professionals simply looking to offer their services to the public. This requirement ranges from the understandable (such as surgeons who cut people open for a living) to the non-sensical (such as landscape designers, cosmetologists, florists, interior designers, and more).

Watch the video

In 1950, only 1 in 20 workers had to obtain such a license to work in their chosen profession. Today, that number has dramatically increased to 1 in every 3. Utah is not immune from this trend, and has the 13th most burdensome laws compared to other states.

Fortunately, there is an appetite for reform. Last year, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 23, sponsored by Senator Curt Bramble, which significantly improved the opportunities for individuals to get to work in Utah by decreasing the regulatory burden for those coming from other states. Under the new law, an individual is entitled to a license — without having to take any exam or demonstrate competency to the government — if they were licensed in another state and had at least one year of experience in the profession.

Many have taken advantage of this streamlined process. 1,753 nurses, 523 electricians, 192 physicians, 140 pharmacists, 447 cosmetologists, 140 social workers, and others have benefitted from added “portability” to their existing license and experience. In total, over 4,500 individuals have experienced this lighter regulatory burden.

There remains much room for improvement. Representative Kera Birkeland sponsored a bill this year that would have additionally recognized work experience in another state that didn’t require a license for a profession where Utah does require a license. Imagine someone working for twenty years as a carpenter in another state that never required a license. The individual moves to Utah, which does require a license. Utah should simply recognize that experience and issue a license to continue working. Rep. Birkeland’s bill is a step in that direction to increase additional flexibility and free up the market.

Additionally, the same benefits need to be applied to foreign workers coming to Utah who have experience or licensure. The law currently doesn’t apply the streamlined recognition process to these individuals — and while perhaps more complicated than state-by-state recognition, a path forward needs to be opened for these experienced workers, too.

Finally, legislators will soon be considering a series of reforms to the legislative oversight process for occupational licensure, in light of an executive order by Governor Cox — the goal ideally being to come up with a way whereby occupations that are overburdened with licensure regulations, or that don’t need licensure at all, can be treated with a lighter touch to get more people working and get the government out of the way. Expect a robust debate come January as the Legislature takes up the issue.